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LOS ANGELES ART COMMUNITY: GROUP PORTRAIT
Interviewed by Lawrence Weschler and Milton Zolotow
Completed under the auspices
Oral History Program
University of California
Copyright ® 1985
The Regents of the University of California
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LITERARY RIGHTS AND QUOTATION
This manuscript is hereby made available for research
purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript,
including the right to publication, are reserved to the
University Library of the University of California,
Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted
for publication without the written permission of the
University Librarian of the University of California,
LOS ANGELES ART COMMUNITY: GROUP PORTRAIT
This interview is one of a series, entitled "Los
Angeles Art Community: Group Portrait," funded by the
National Endowment for the Humanities and conducted
from July 1, 1975 to March 31, 1977 by the UCLA Oral
History Program. The project was directed jointly by
Page Ackerman, University Librarian, and Gerald
Nordland, Director UCLA Art Galleries, and administered
by Bernard Galm, Director, Oral History Program. After
selection of interview candidates and interviewers, the
Program assumed responsibility for the conduct of all
interviews and their processing.
Interview History xiii
TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (December 29, 1975) 1
Childhood in Budapest, Hungary--Arr ives in
Evanston, Illinois, at age of 13--An affinity for
nonf igurative des ign--Moves to Los Angeles--
Apprentice animator at Charles Mintz Studio--
Interest in movement and rhythm grows out of
early exposure to ballet--Kandinsky exhibit--Work
at Walt Disney Studios-- Fantasia — Professional
conflicts — A lack of sympathy for experimentation
TAPE NUMBER:' I, Side Two (December 29, 1975) 25
Recollections of Walt Disney--Disney as an
instinctive entertainer--Limits of Disney's
approach to animation--Work at the Air Force
animation unit--Herb Klynn, an exceptional talent
in graphic art3--United Productions of America
(UPA) — More on the limits of Disney's approach to
animation--Personalities are the merchandise of
TAPE NUMBER: II, Video Session (January 23, 1976) 45
Los Angeles' shortcomings as an art center —
Comparisons with New York--More on work on
Fantasia- -Discusses his drawings for Fantasia--
Rico Lebrun's work at Disney--Animators in the
1950s--Exhibits of animators' paintings — The
hard-edge geometrical style of Engel's
paintings — A desire to translate qualities of
simplicity and directness from painting into
film — Film as a developing art form — More on work
at UPA--An emphasis on flat, two-dimensional
design at UPA — The UPA look influenced by
contemporary painters — Raoul Dufy and the
divorced line — The use of color as aspect of
dramatic intent--Economy of gesture in UPA
films — Robert Cannon, the greatest animator in
TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (May 19, 1976) 79
On present position as chairman of film graphics
department at California Institute of the Arts
(Cal Arts) — Interrelationship of film and other
art forms at Cal Arts — Early history of Cal Arts —
Future trends in the arts--The live-action camera
department at Cal Arts--Cal Arts as a reservoir
of young talent--A positive working environment
at Cal Arts.
TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (December 16, 1977) 105
Viewing Engel's experimental animation films--
Train Landscape, a painterly approach to
f ilmmaking--Engel ' s methods of conception and
execution- -Accident — Shapes and Gestures, the
influence of dance-- Land scape , a color-field
painting in time--Wet Paint--Fragments .
TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side Two (December 16, 1977) 121
More on Fragments — Rumble--Engel ' s working
methods--v7orki ng through instincts rather than
formulas- -Swan — The hazards of the computer film--
Three Arctic Flowers--Engel ' s work with computer
graph ics--Coaraze_, a live-action film--Use of
still photography in Coaraze--Coara2e wins Prix
Vigo and numerous other awards--No commercial
distributor opts to handle Coaraze .
TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (December 22, 1977) 138
Oskar Fischinger--Fischinger ' s isolation within
the Disney Studios--Los Angeles avant-garde
painters and animators in 1940s--Fischinger ' s
last years at Disney--More on Engel's teaching at
Cal Arts — Disney trustees and the founding of Cal
Arts--The evolution and success of the Cal Arts
animation program--Engel ' s teaching methods.
TAPE NUMBER: V, Side Two (December 22, 1977) 163
More on teaching at Cal Arts--Student interaction
at Cal Arts--Teaching approaches--Kathy Rose,
Dennis Pies, and Adam Beckett--On establishing
rapport with students--Women in animation.
TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side One (December 30, 1977) 191
Preparation for work on live-action films — The
Ivory Knife, capturing the environment of the
painter Paul Jenkins--Colla'oorat ion with Irving
Bazilon on film score--Interaction with Jenkins —
The Torch and the Torso--Working with Miguel
Berrocal--Structural and thematic relations
between drama and painting--Mew York 100, the
work of John Hultberg — Light Motion — Max Bill--
Technical considerations in live-action film--
June Wayne and the Tamarind workshop--Engel ' s
introduction to li thography--Working environment
TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side Two (December 30, 1977) 219
More on June Wayne and Tamarind V7orkshop — The
Look of a Lithographer--Ken Tyler and Gemini
Editions, Ltd. --Robert Rauschenberg , Jasper
Johns, Claes Oldenburg, and Frank Stella work at
Gemini--Cirrus Editions--Engel ' s lithographic
work--Engel on the status of film as an art
form--Is film a "medium of consequence"?
TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side One (February 16, 1978) 246
Childhood interest in abstraction — Family
background — First encounters with the work of
Kandinsky — Engel's working methods--Connect ions
between the mediums in which Engel works--Sngel ' s
relations with dealers: Paul Kantor, Esther
Robles, Felix Landau, and Irving Blum — More on
limits of Los Angeles as an art center —
Comparisons with New York.
TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side Two, (April 1, 1978) .....273
More on interest in abstraction — The "Four
Abstract Classicists" show at Los Angeles County
Museum--A developmental survey of the phases of
Engel's artistic career--Establishing depth with
color — The straight line — Engel's love of urban
life--Living and working in Los Angeles —
Animation, painting, lithography, and film —
Future directions for Engel — Future trends for
young artists and filmmakers — The bankruptcy of
Jules Engel (born in Budapest, Hungary, 1913) came to
the United States when he was thirteen years old. He began
painting in a hard-edged geometrical style while a high
school student in Evanston, Illinois. "I already had a
very definite idea," Engel states in the following
interview, "that, for me, going out and drawing landscapes
or still lifes was not quite the idea what drawing or
painting should be. Now, if you ask me where this idea
comes from, I have no idea. But my feeling was then that
if I would take an empty piece of paper and draw a line or
two on it, even if I put a circle in a square on the paper,
that that could be a drawing, and that could be enough.
And that should be enough." (p. 7)
Immediately after graduating from high school in 1937,
Engel came to Los Angeles. He worked briefly for Charles
Mintz Studios, then Engel apprenticed at Walt Disney
Studios. The studio assigned him to work on Fantasia , and
he choreographed the Chinese and Russian dance sequences
for the Nutcracker Suite section of that film. In these
two sequences, Engel innovated the use of black-background
animation. He v/as then selected to do color continuity and
color keying on Bambi. Engel, however, was not happy with
VI 1 1
what he considered the restrictive creative environment at
Disney and left to join the armed services after the United
States entered World War II. Engel spent the war years
assigned to Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, making
training and educational films for the Air Force Motion
After the war Engel went to work for the newly formed
United Productions of America (UPA). He began as a
designer but by 1950 he had become art director for all UPA
productions. He teamed up with the late Robert Cannon to
create Gerald McBoing-Boing , Madeline , Christopher Crumpet,
and Jaywalker , plus a feature film "starring" UPA's Mister
Magoo character. Engel and the other talents working at
UPA changed the look of commercial animated filmmaking by
adapting the artistic concepts of contemporary artists as
varied as Dufy, Duchamps, Matisse, Kandinsky, and Klee.
In 1959, Engel left UPA to open with Herb Klynn a
commercial animation studio. Format Films. Engel produced
and art directed the Academy Award-nominated film, Icarus
Montgofier Wright (1960), from a script by Ray Bradbury.
Engel then went to Paris in 1962 and directed The World of
Sine , featuring the work of French cartoonist Sine; this
film received France's "La Belle Qualite" award.
The next film which Engel directed in Europe was
Coroaze, made in the French town of Coroaze in 1965.
p. Adams Sitney, writing on this film for Filmex, argues
that this film is the "most impressive of [Engel's]
nonanimated films . . . Coroaze utilizes high contrast
black and white photography to outline the sculptural
volume in Engel's view of the medieval townscape. Stills
are freely incorporated in this film, at times in direct
antithesis to the movement on the screen, but more often to
indicate the ambiguity between the photograph and the
filmed image of an empty street. In this carefully
controlled optical universe the camera must seek out human
activity to determine the status of its images. Engel's
painterly eye dwells upon the tiled rooftops and the strong
horizontals of the stone steps. By rapidly shifting the
camera angles and recomposing these objects, he is able to
draw 'graphic choreography' from them." ("American
Independent Animation: Perspectives/ Jules Engel," The 1978
Los Angeles International Film Exposition) Coroaze won the
highest award given by French film critics, the Prix Jean Vigo.
While living in France, Engel coproduced and
codirected with Raymond Jerome the stage production of
Antoine de Saint ExupSry's The Little Prince, which ran for
several seasons in Paris, Rome, and Brussels. He also
designed the sets for Le Jouex, an avant-garde play
produced in Paris.
Engel has made several films on artists and their
work. In 1966, he directed a study of Spanish sculptor
i4iguel Berrocal, The Torch and Torso. He directed a film
for Tamarind Lithography Workshop, The Look of the
Lithographer (1968). Other films on art and artists are
American Sculpture of the Sixties (1968), New York 100
(1967), and Max Bill (1976).
Throughout a lengthy and successful career in both
commercial and independent filmmaking, Engel has produced
paintings, sculptures, drawings, and lithographs. He has
had several one-man shows in Los Angeles, New York, and
Europe. His art work is in the permanent collections of
the Chicago Art Institute, the Hirshhorn Collection, the
Rockefeller Collection, and the Museum of Modern Art in New
Engel he did not intensively explore his ideas for
experimental films until the 1960s, and his most
"painterly" films were made in the 1970s. In Landscape
(1971), Accident (1973), Train Landscape (1973), Shapes and
Gestures (1976), Rumble (1977), Fragments of Movement
(1977), and Wet Paint (1977), Engel has created pure
abstractions which explore the movement potentials of lines
and masses, optical conflicts, color and depth illusions,
color-field concepts, and the single line. Engel calls
these films paintings in motion or "graphic
choreography." In 1977, in the magazine New, Engel wrote
that his emphasis in these films is "on the development of
a visual dynamic language, independent of literature and
theatrical traditions, demonstrating that pure graphic
choreography is capable of its own wordless truth."
Since 1969, Engel has been chairman of the Department
of Animation/Experimental Film at the California Institute
of the Arts. Engel in the following interview emphasizes
the cross-fertilization that exists between painting and
filmmaking in both his teaching and his creative work, but
he says, "I have taken more from the painting world into
the film that I've been doing, rather than the other way. .
When we are talking animation, we have to realize that we're
talking about painting in motion." (pp. 291-292)
Tapes I-III, Milton Zolotow, graphic designer; Tapes
IV-VII, Lawrence Weschler, assistant editor, UCLA Oral
History Program, B.A., Philosophy and Cultural History,
University of California, Santa Cruz.
TIME AND SETTING OF INTERVIEW:
Places ; Engel's home in Beverly Hills; Engel's
studio/office at the California Institute of the Arts in
Valencia, California; and the Charles Aidikoff Screening
Room in Beverly Hills.
Dates : December 29, 1975; January 23, May 19, 1976;
December 16, 22, 30, 1977; February 16 and April 1, 1978.
Length of sessions and total number of recording hours:
Interview sessions were conducted at various times of
day. They averaged between forty-five and ninety
minutes. A total of approximately nine hours of
conversation was recorded.
Persons present during the interview: Tapes I-III, Engel
and Zolotow; Tapes IV-VII, Engel and Weschler.
CONDUCT OF INTERVIEW:
There was a one and a half year gap between the work of
the original interviewer, Milton Zolotow, and that of the
interviewer for the final four tapes, Lawrence Weschler.
Zolotow's approach was chronological and followed the
course of Engel's life and work as an artist. Weschler
began his sessions by viewing some of Engel's experimental
films and having Engel discuss them. Further sessions
focused on themes which explored in depth the range of
Engel's creative activities. In several instances Engel
returned to topics previously discussed with Zolotow, in
particular Engel's interest in abstract art, his years at
Disney Studios and UPA, and his present teaching position
at Cal Arts.
Lawrence Weschler edited the entire interview. He checked
the verbatim transcript of the interview against the
original tape recordings and edited for spelling,
punctuation, paragraphing, and verified spelling of proper
nouns. Words and phrases inserted for clarity by the
editor have been bracketed.
Engel reviewed and approved the edited transcript. He
made no changes or deletions in the manuscript.
Richard Candida Smith, principal editor, wrote the
introduction. George Hodak, editorial assistant, prepared
the index and the table of contents.
The original tape recordings of the interview are in the
university archives and are available under the
regulations governing the use of permanent noncurrent
records of the university. Records relating to the
interview are located in the office of the UCLA Oral
History Program. . ..
TAPE NUMBER: I, SIDE ONE
DECEMBER 29, 1975
ZOLOTOW: Now, one of the first things they [UCLA Oral
History Program] were interested in establishing is v/here
you came from, how you got here. Where 'd you come from?
ENGEL: Where 'd I come from? I was born in Budapest,
Hungary, and I came to this country as a citizen, because
my mother was already here for some time. So as I said,
when I came over, I came over as an American citizen,
because she was already a citizen.
ZOLOTOW: How old were you?
ENGEL: I think about thirteen. I landed in Evanston,
Illinois, which was a lucky thing for me, because it's a
lovely place, and the people were very kind to me. They
really looked after me in anything and everything. They
made sure that my presence was comfortable. Naturally, I
spoke not a word of English, so I attended some night
school. But I was also able to enter a high school in
Evanston. I guess I already was showing some signs of
drawing talent, but they wanted me also because I showed
promise in athletics. I became one of their star athletes.
ZOLOTOW: What sports were you interested in?
ENGEL: Track. I'd run anything from the 400 up.
ZOLOTOW: Still run?
ENGEL: No, no, no. I don't like to run for fun. No,
let me take that back. For me, it's competition; that
was good. But the running aspect of it, the whole athletic
aspect of it for me, was a natural thing; it was just part
of my body, my body rhythm. And I was pretty damn good
at it, I guess, because I was the track captain, and I
broke, oh, about a dozen high school records. But to me,
the good thing was that I enjoyed it. Your body can
function like an animal. In other words, you have your
head and your body, and running, jumping, and all, that was
where the body was in motion. To me that was a very good
thing. So I guess because of that and the drawing, the
people at Evans ton were really very, very beautiful, and,
really, I think I was lucky to land there because of the
care that they showed toward me.
ZOLOTOW: Then where ' d you go?
ENGEL: Then from there I took off to Hollywood.
ENGEL: Yes. I just got on a bus and I came out here. I
only knew one person out here, because I met somebody back
in Chicago who gave me the address. Of course, the whole
thing is a little vague now. But what happened was that
I landed out here and I went to see this one person, and
there wasn't much there; but then he recommended me to go
see somebody at the Chamber of Commerce of Hollywood. I
saw this other man, and he said to me, "You know, you're
a very nice chap. I'll tell you what I'll do for you.
I'll give you the money that it would take for you to get
back to Evanston, Illinois. You should go back. You are
a nice fellow, and I really want to help you. Why don't
you go back?" [laughter]
ZOLOTOW: He didn't want to wish Hollywood on you, huh?
ENGEL : And so that was my big contact.
ZOLOTOW: How old were you, Jules?
ENGEL: I was seventeen. And then I had an introduction to
an artist; I think I got that from a high school teacher of
mine. I had the address, so after this man at the Chamber
of Commerce had given me the money to go back home to
Evanston, I then decided to look up this artist. And
that was something that bugged me already then, because
the word artist--I had no idea what the hell I'm going to
I was near the place that this man was living. He
was living, as I remember, near Hollywood and Highland,
somewhere there. I saw a man on a corner painting a land-
scape. He kept holding the pencil up in one hand, you know,
looking through for perspective or something.
And I said, "Oh, no, shit — if that's the guy, oh boy,
I'm already in bad shape." Because at that time already I
had ideas, and I thought, "No, my God, if that's him — "
Anyway, I had no choice. I had to go to his apartment.
Well, it wasn't him--it was another man, luckily, but he
was also a strange one. He painted landscapes of Arizona,
and then he would go up there. He painted the landscapes
here, and then he would go up to Arizona and sell them there.
He did extremely well. Now, he was the guy who knew somebody
at the Charles Mintz Studio.
ZOLOTOW: Do you remember his name?
ENGEL: I think his name was [Ken] Strobel. He painted
landscapes of Arizona. He knew somebody at the Charles Mintz
Studio. He recommended me there, because I had no way of
making a living, really. I was very good at doing pen-and-
ink drawings at that time.
ZOLOTOW: Had you had any training, at this point?
ENGEL: I had very little at the high school. I had like
four years of art school. I went to Evans ton Academy.
(Evanston had a kind of art school called Evanston Academy
of Fine Art.) As a high school student, I would go there
evenings and draw, m.ostly designs and that sort of thing.
They would set up the material for a still life and so forth.
ZOLOTOW: Were any of the original teachers any good?
ENGEL: Well, I don't recall that I had too many teachers,
really. I mean that person there set up the still life, and
I would draw from it.
But now I have to get around to a certain point. I
have to be very specific here. To get back to Strobel, he
knew somebody at the Charles Mintz Studio, so he introduced
me. But the thing that he asked me was, he would give me
some photographs of the desert scene, and I would then draw
pen-and-ink drawings of that, as I was very good at pen-and-
ink, as I said. So I would be there six o'clock in the
morning, and I would draw these pen-and-ink drawings of
landscapes for him until eight.
ZOLOTOW: Did he sign them?
ENGEL: [laughter] You're ahead of me. I did about a dozen.
I went there for months and months and months in the morning.
A year or two later, I don't know how I picked up a magazine,
Arizona magazine, but, by God, there were my pen-and-ink
drawings, and he signed them. Of course, it was a kind of
a compliment to me, because this was a mature painter, a very
"fine painter" with a big studio here, and yet my pen-and-
ink drawings were good enough for him to sign them. Then I
find out later that he also colored some--you know, put
color over the prints. I was not angry at the man, because
he did introduce me to the Charles Mintz Studio, which gave
me the first job. So in a sense, I felt that he did me a
favor, and I did him a favor, although I wish to hell I had
those drawings now. Just the reproduction, just to prove
the point. He was a kind of real wheeler-dealer. He never
paid for anything.
ZOLOTOW: Well, maybe we can track the drawing down. What
magazine were they in?
ENGEL: I think it's called Arizona.
ZOLOTOW: Okay, well, maybe we can get some researchers to
work on it and see if we can track them down.
ENGEL: I remember definitely I saw one of these drawings
in a magazine with his name under it. Oh, what the hell,
it ' s long ago.
ZOLOTOW: What'd you do for Charles Mintz when you started
ENGEL: Well, you could only do one thing entering that
animation studio, and that was to join as an apprentice. I
was apprentice animator, what they call an "in-betweener . "
Aside from that, I used to take a lot of layout drawings;
then I would go over them with my lines to get it ready for
the background department to paint. I had a kind of a nice
line that they liked, so I would take some very rough drawings,
go over them, and trace them for background. The big thing
as apprentice, "in-betweener," was that you're going toward
But you asked me something which is very important--if
at that time when I was going to Academy of Fine Arts in
Evanston, if I had teachers of consequence. Well, now, you
see, this is the very strange thing that I have to explain.
It might sound as if I am not telling the truth, but this is
the truth. When I was in high school, I already had a
very definite idea that, for me, going out and drawing
landscapes or still lifes was not quite the idea what
drawing or painting should be. Now, if you ask me where
this idea comes from, I have no idea. But my feeling was
then that if I would take an empty piece of paper and draw
a line or two on it, even if I put a circle in a square on
the paper, that that could be a drawing, and that could be
a piece of art. And that should be enough.
ZOLOTOW: Was there anyone that encouraged you in this?
ENGEL : No, nobody encouraged me, because at that time I'd
never even seen anything like it. I never saw anything
except-- Because when you grow up in Budapest, and you go
to museums on Sundays , you go and see the Rubens and
Rembrandts and Titians . But my point of view was already
that there must be more to painting and drawing than just
what I have seen. In other words, that you should be able
to just put anything on a piece of paper of your own invention,
imagination, and that should be art.
And the strange thing is that in high school, because
I already had a very large presence as a draftsman, or drawer,
my high school teacher, somehow — And I don't think she really
knew much about things, but I remember that the class would
go out in the field to draw the trees, and she said, "No, you
can stay in the room, and you do what you want to do." I
still don't understand why she would let that happen, but
I remember everybody had to go. And I would stay in the
room and draw my circles and squares and lines. She went
along with that, and yet I don't think she knew what the
hell I was doing, because I was doing things out of my
head. So this is how I began. I wanted to make this point,
since at that early time, the basic concept of what my art
would be was already there.
ZOLOTOW: Can you trace back and place where you were
exposed to nonf igurative art?
ENGEL: No. I told you there was no such thing. This is
why, when people say that you have to have those other
ingredients, I have to get back to myself and say, "It's
not so." I say, "At that age, I had these concepts, and
I made those drawings in high school." I remember when we
had to do portfolios and put covers on them and make the
designs, I was always drawing squares and triangles and
stuff like that, filling up the space. I felt that that
was already an expression, and that should be art.
Now if I were to go back, I have to go back to certain
experiences which at that time were strange. I remember
when I saw-- I was in an artist's studio once, and I was
about twelve, eleven, maybe twelve, thirteen, very little.
That man was painting, and he was an artist. How I got
there, I don't know. But I remember he had a big picture
on his wall. It had kind of like a kitchen, and three dogs
were chasing; and one dog was on the top of the stairs, one
was in the middle, and one was already on the landing. What
fascinated me, already then, was not the dogs but the fact
that there was all that space underneath the dogs. And that
fascinated me. That space underneath the dogs. Not the dogs.
The space. (And it had some lines.) Now, this was the first
time, as I think back, that I said to myself, "That's inter-
esting." At that time, I was aware of that and it captivated
Another thing I was aware of when I saw the Rubens and the
Rembrandts and Titians was, you had a head which was enormously
well painted, and you would have a hand which was well painted,
but then you had a whole section of the canvas where you saw
the brushwork. That brushwork fascinated me to the point where
I said, "I like that better than the head. I see the canvas
coming through and the rough feeling of the brush stroke. If
I could frame it, for me, that's a painting."
I can make one more point, which to me is more interesting
today than it was then. I was never aware of cars, of auto-
mobiles. I couldn't tell one car from another. I'm pretty
good at that now. But I remember (I was again around that age)
I came around a corner with my friends, and I saw a car which
stopped me cold. For the first time, I noticed a car. I
noticed a car, and it really was an experience. What grabbed me
was the front of the car, the enormous simplicity. Again,
as I say, at that early time, I asked my friends what it
was. And that's the first time that I ever wanted to know
what a car was. It v;as simply that I liked the front. It
had the kind of a structure that I reacted to. And what the
hell do you think it was? It was a Rolls-Royce. But the
Rolls-Royce front had that classical shape. Later in time, I
realized these things — that there was a gut reaction you can't
explain. But why did I react to that shape? I never cared
for a car, and I never looked at a car. When I saw that, I
said to myself, "My God, that is something."
So somehow — I come to a very early point here, or
conclusion--I reacted because I had to. Sometimes you do
in life what you have to do 1 In other words, all these things
later were very obvious, and you see I_ had no choice.
Now, this idea of having no choice is present in a lot of
people. I remember listening to Jacques Tati a couple of
years ago, and I asked him why he makes comedy. Tati
simply answered, "I have no choice."
Now, I have heard that from other people, and sometimes
that no choice comes very early. But the fact that I saw
that Rolls-Royce and that structure; saw the dogs and the
space underneath the dogs; saw the Rubens, the Rembrandts,
the Titians, and those large areas in the canvas where you
just see texture — I was drawn to all that at a very early
time. But I never studied abstract paintings when all
these things were happening, but already my thinking
was coinciding with those things. And yet they were
not abstractions — they were part of a painting, or part
of an object that I had an immediate simpatico with. So
I know it might sound silly, what I'm saying now, but
this is the way that all my work is started.
ZOLOTOW: When you got into film, did you feel a contradic-
tion between what film was asking you to do and your own
impulse to create the forms that you were interested in?
ENGEL: Well, no. At first, when I got in there, I didn't
worry about that, because it gave me the first opportunity
to be in a professional environment, an environment where
things can happen. I wanted to get in there. I didn't
care how I'd get in there just as long as I got in there.
And then what was going to happen later, of course, I could
do something about. But, you see, my first big impact of
the world of the arts, in my gut, was when I saw the Ballet
Russe de Monte Carlo. Then I saw, for the first time, music,
movement, dancing, painting--all those things combined. So
that was the thing that propelled me to get into an environ-
ment where I could function on all those levels.
ZOLOTOW: You're decribing two forces, then: the inner
force toward a certain formalism, then this external force,
the richness of full drama-art. Both these were working
ENGEL : But that was the biggest impression on me as a
young person; because there, for the first time, I saw
the direction I might want to involve myself in. The
sense of movement always interested me--I mean, the
sense of movement as in dancing. That from the first
always interested me, and it was already part of me.
But again, you see, in the dancer's movement you have
enormous simplicity. You have structure, but you have
the simplicity, because you can't lie with movement.
When you move, you don't lie. You have no choice. When
you make with the words, you can say things that somebody
else will come and say, "No, he means that."
ZOLOTOW: What do you mean, Jules? Aren't there phony
ENGEL: I'm not talking about phony dancers. I'm talking
about, for instance, athletes and the Martha Grahams and
the Ballet Russe. I mean, when a man runs, he runs, and
that's all there is to it. When a man jumps for a ball,
and he wants to put it into a basket, he jumps. And no
one can come up and explain, now, well, he meant this or
that. And you're going to say something, and five other
people will interpret what you're saying. But if I run a
100-yard dash, no one can interpret this: I am either
going to get there before you do, or you are going to get
there before I do . So in that area of movement, you can
have this enormous simplicity and directness. It is a
kind of total expression. And in my work, my early
thinking was that when you got to a line, it's a kind
of statement with enormous simplicity.
Where these things came from, you see, is what we're
talking about here. Where it came from, it came from
my gut, and from no place else. And this is why often,
when people say you need this and this and that to
arrive to this thing, I don't think so. Because my
whole experience in my life has always been against
that. In other words, when I had a concept--
I remember in high school, they were putting on a
stage performance. I was very much involved in that scene.
And I recommended not to use anything as a set, just to
use a bench, a table, and a chair. They looked at me
like I was out of my mind. But then, five or ten years
later they were doing Our Town, where they did nothing
but use a chair or a table. But where the hell did this
come from? I don't know where the hell it came from.
All I can tell you is that these things are possible,
that it can come from a person without his ever being
exposed to anything of that sort.
ZOLOTOW: It seemed to arise simultaneously in a lot of
people at the same time.
ENGEL: That happens. But I wanted to just make this
point — and this is kind of a large statement — that if
pure nonobjective art had never existed before my present,
it would have arrived because I would have been doing it.
Of course, people have a lot of art school, and then they
have all the teachers, and they're exposed to a lot of
things--but that's something else. But when you arrived
at those things and you've never been exposed to anything
like that and you just do it, well, that is something else,
And maybe that's why, when I am looking at nonobjective
work, I often feel that the stuff is not right, because it
doesn't — not that it doesn't really come from the gut, the
heart, but the person has no feel for it. If you have a
feel for it, it should be as natural on the canvas as when
Cezanne put an apple on the canvas.
ZOLOTOW: And yet when you got into film, you didn't feel
unnatural doing representational images.
ENGEL: No, never, because then I was in another terrain,
and I had to go along with that aspect of it. Let's say
at the Charles Mintz-- Although the Charles Mintz studio
experience for me was a disaster because of the people's
lack of sensitivity of what the world was doing, I
realized then that there was nothing I can do about that,
because I'm a young fellow, I'm a beginner and I'd better
keep my mouth shut. Which I believe at certain times is
what you're supposed to do. But the whole place was
very anti-intellectual, anti-sensitive to art, anti-art,
anti-culture. I mean, people were doing that because it
was a job, but not with passion, not with tenderness.
ZOLOTOW : Do you remember the year that this was?
ENGEL: Well, it had to be '38 and '39, see. But by that
time, around that time, I was exposed for the first time to •
comtemporary art. I think the first one that I saw was
here in Los Angeles, either a book or something that I saw,
a Kandinsky. And POW! That opened the whole vista. And
also what was interesting about it, that I, all of a sudden,
felt that I wasn't alone. Because before I always felt
that I was alone.
I made little sketches, and I showed them to my friends.
I remember I showed it to a friend of mine--my first non-
objective little drawings and stuff. He was a very good
commercial artist; and he looked at the drawings and he
said, "What the shit are you doing, Jules? What are you
wasting your time for? What is this crap you're doing?"
Well, all I could do, I just put the goddamn thing
together, the little package, and we went to a party, and
the next day I went back to my goddamned little
abstractions. In other words, it could have destroyed me,
but it didn't. It didn't bother me that he didn't like it,
or that he reacted the way he did. It didn't really mean
a damn thing. I just kept doing what felt right for me.
In the studio, however, that was something else; that
was a job. But still I was involved in getting closer
to things that I wanted to get closer to. The only way
to get closer to this desire was for a while to work
with people whether I liked them or not.
ZOLOTOW: What images were you drawing for Charles iMintz?
What were they--? ' . • ■
ENGEL: Oh, Jesus--! can't remember. But those were
horrible things. I mean, they were just awful things.
But as I say, when you start, you don't complain. It gives
you, as you know, the opportunity to work and get experience,
and that was important. The environment was bad because
the people there were absolutely against anything that was
refined or sensitive. In fact, I remember a couple of times,
they knocked me a little bit. In other words, you were a
kind of an "egghead," and "intellectual," a "snob," and all
that kind of thing. So you kept your mouth shut and you
But already, by that time, I was in touch with a
couple of people that were working with Disney on Fantasia.
In fact, I saw a wonderful photo in a Vogue of those
dandelions coming down, so I gave that to a friend of mine
over at Disney, because they were already working on the
Nutcracker, the whole suite. I gave him that piece of
photo and I said, "Why don't you take it there and show him
that--this could be like the ballerinas. You know, use
those shapes." That's what happened. They used those
shapes in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker , at the beginning,
and then they recommended-- Because by that time, I was
doing a lot of drawings--as I say, I was already a ballet
freak--of dancers in movement, just line, you know. They
showed it at Disney to somebody. At that time they were
working on the Nutcracker, and they had a lot of problems
with the "Chinese Dance," the "Russian Dance," the "Arabian
Dance." So the next thing I know, I was called for an
interview at Disney, and I was hired as a consultant chore-
ographer, put immediately on the "Chinese Dance" and the
"Russian Dance," to do the choreography.
ZOLOTOW: Did you have musical training at all?
ENGEL: No, I didn't have musical training, but my mother
was a pianist. It was something that was around me, all
the time. And a lot of the theater was around me, a lot
of theater--not so much movies. And because I had this
experience at Charles Mintz, so I knew how to put up a
continuity sketch, you know, for the choreography.
Now, the problem at Disney was that the word choreog-
raphy got in the way. They didn't know what the hell it
meant. But it didn't matter, because I had these drawings,
and they put me in a unit. Now, the problem with the unit
was that no one had seen ballet before and no one went to
the theater--! 'm not going to mention names.
ZOLOTOW: Mention names. Mention names!
ENGEL: Well, Norm Wright was the story unit director of
this sequence, and Norm Wright, at that time, I don't think
he had ever seen a ballet. I don't think he ever saw a
play. And there was a couple of other people: they could
draw well, but they were not into that scene. They never
heard of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Ted Shawn, or any
of that world. And, of course, the Kandinsky stuff or a
Paul Klee idea of art was definitely taboo. But here they
were working on [the] "Chinese Dance," and none of them had
been exposed to any of that stuff. So again I come into the
place like an egghead. And I began to make continuity
sketches for the "Chinese Dance," the choreography, and
then of course the "Russian Dance."
And that started a big battle, between me and the other
people in the unit, because for one thing, I was pushing for
the black, total black environment, just black. Of course,
that was unheard of there.
"What do you mean, just black? We've gotta have some-
thing back there. We gotta have the bottom of a tree, or
grass" or some crap."
And I said, "No, no, just pure black, just pure black
with characters moving, choreographies being done on the
board. And nothing, not even the source of light--you see
the light at the bottom, but not as a source of light."
Now, this thing, this enormous simplicity, was
staggering there, because they wanted to go with what they
called "production"--f ill up the place, you know, lots of
stuff on the screen. Now, I had a lot of fights there, a
lot of fights. Also they wanted to do like a Goldwyn.
They wanted to have down shots, kind of like those follies
girls with the down shots--
ZOLOTOW: Busby Berkeley.
ENGEL: Busby Berkeley.
ZOLOTOW : They wanted the Busby Berkeley choreography.
ENGEL: But I'd already seen the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo;
I saw the "Chinese Dance" in the Nutcracker Suite there,
and I had all that in my gut already. And now comes again
the simplicity, the pure black and just the shapes. I didn't
design the shapes (the shapes were already designed) , but the
way they were going to move, I did all that. So we ended
up — with both of those, the "Russian Dance" and the "Chinese
Dance," we ended up on black. But the reason we ended up
on black, I think, was because at that time the budget was
so depleted, that that was the cheapest way of going. Now,
the strange thing is that today, in Fantasia, whenever they
run it, they always talk about the "Chinese Dance" and
the "Russian Dance" — it looks like it was done today.
At that time I had to [fight] them into not getting a
Me tro-Goldwyn [-Mayer ] musical thing in there, not getting
all that crap in the background — just to go with this
ZOLOTOW: That was probably one of the first times that an
idea from modern painting and modern art got introduced
ENGEL : So, you see, with all those things in the bag, here
I had the opportunity for the first time to put those
things into motion. But I had an awful lot of fights and
some very bad times with my people around me. All I wanted
to do was just put something on there which I felt was right--
there was nothing for me to get back. In fact, I didn't
even get credit on Fantasia because I was working in this
particular area. And then when I wanted choreography credit,
I remember, the guy said, "What do you mean? What does it
mean, 'choreography'?" So forget it. So the fellow who
animated the "Chinese Dance" — Art Babbit did the animation--
now, whenever you mention that, it's interesting, because
it'sArt Babbit. But the concept, the continuity — that
had nothing to do with him. The animator comes in when
the aesthetics are solved.
ZOLOTOW: Was there anybody at Disney who was interested
in what we call art, painting?
ENGEL: Well, they were all painting; they were all painting.
But the painting then had the presence of what you call
then the West Coast watercolor — Barse Miller, Millard
Sheets, and Phil Dike, [who] was the man who hired me.
ZOLOTOW: Phil Dike was working there?
ENGEL: He hired me. He was the man who hired me on
this job after seeing those drawings. So that was the
texture of the art scene.
ZOLOTOW: Paris didn't exist? Picasso didn't exist?
ENGEL: Well, we used Stravinsky, you know, and all that.
Or Beethoven. But then it was almost as if you were going
to put them on the map, you know. Or I remember, I was
going into a story meeting and they told me, "Don't use
the word abstract because you're going to have people look
at you like you're a strange character."
In fact, I had drawings--! ' 11 show you some drawings--
I had drawings on the story board, and the guys used to
take them off the story board when Walt and his entourage
came into the room because they felt that this kind of a
drawing might look strange. You see, my approach to use
colors then was like that.
ZOLOTOW: What years were these?
ENGEL: This is '39, '39-40. Now, you see, this was not
the kind of color approach to doing things over there. I
was doing things like that then.
ZOLOTOW: We'll recapitulate this on videotape, so we can
ENGEL: This was wild for then. So what happened —
No, at the time we were finishing Fantasia, Tom Codrick,
who was art director on Bambi , one day stopped me in the
hall, and he said, "I like this kind of a way you use color.
I would like you to do something on Bambi , but to use color
like you do.
So that was the one nice thing that happened there,
that this fellow saw this and he said, "I want you to use
colors like this." But while I was working on colors like
that on Fantasia, I had a lot of fights and a lot of problems.
But these were drawings that were yanked off the board--
You see, just black. It has this kind of enormous vitality.
ZOLOTOW: In those years, the difference between commercial
artists and art-artists was so aggravated--
ENGEL: Oh, yes. Because you were either an egghead, a
queer, a snob--all kinds of strange tags were put on you,
you know. I think there were some people there who would
have a Cezanne in a room, maybe. But then Cezanne was
already, for a lot of people, very weird. So when you come
to something like Kandinsky--
ZOLOTOW: Did Walt ever collect art?
ENGEL: No, I don't think he collected art, although he
bought something of mine. I don't know whether he has it
or not; I know he bought something from me--I think they
had a sale. You see, you can't just say Walt, because that
would be unfair, because at least Walt had what I consider
a tremendous sense of integrity to himself. But he was
surrounded by people who fostered that, because none of
them had the guts ever to comment or buck him. So he had
a lot of people around him who were constantly yessing him,
and they had even less than Walt. That's not fair. They
had less than Walt, because at least Walt had a sense of
integrity to himself. I might not agree with him, but he
believed really what he was doing, whereas these other guys
were just there for the ride. They would go along with him,
but he was the total talent, and all these other people
were just working out his fantasies.
I remember at one session, on Bambi , I recommended
something, and Walt didn't care for it. But then when the
meeting was over, I remember one of the guys came over and
he said, "Jules, you know, I like your ideas. That's good
I said, "You son of a bitch, if you like my idea, then
why didn't you speak up?"
Well, we were in a meeting, so, you see, they wouldn't.
ZOLOTOW: Who hired Rico Lebrun to work on Bambi?
ENGEL: I don't know who hired him. I really don't know.
But, you see, Rico was teaching the animators--and I don't
think they liked this idea--how to draw the animal. Because
if you see the deers in Snow White and you see the deer
drawings in Bambi, you can see an enormous difference of
drawing talent, of structure, because Rico was teaching
them from the inside out, you know. He had the classes,
and you can see. Then also they had a couple of people
like [Bernard] Garbutt, who was an animal artist, not a
cartoonis t--an animal artist who did fantastic drawings
of the deer. He could draw like you write your name.
But Lebrun was an enormous influence. And also there
are beautiful books there, those big books with drawings
of the skeleton of the deer in every position that you
can think of. In fact, I have some someplace around here,
ZOLOTOW : Why don't we remember these for the videotape.
I'm going to make some notes, because I would like people
to know about the existence of those drawings.
TAPE NUMBER: I, SIDE TWO
DECEMBER 29, 1975
ZOLOTOW: So the only painters that worked on Fantasia
and the only painters that worked at Disney before Bambi
were really the traditional California school of conser-
ENGEL: Yes, with the exception of one man, Kai Nielsen,
who's a wonderful illustrator, a classical illustrator
from Sweden. Nielsen did the story board on Night on Bald
Mountain. Now, when you see the material on Bald Mountain,
in Fantasia, when you see the dancing of these characters,
you can see these drawings. I mean, it's completely out
of character with everything else, as far as Beethoven. But
again, he was a classical illustrator. In fact, when Tom
Codrick first showed me some footage on Bambi and showed
me a tremendous amount of color stuff already, paintings,
you know, after he asked me to do something with color, I
said, "Well, you know, the problem--and you probably know
it--I feel very silly, because I can't paint like this,
because that approach in using color is like an illustrator,
instead of using colors dramatically. Forget the aspect
of a book illustration, but use color as you would use
words in a theater." So the whole idea which I will come
back to later, when we talk about UFA [United Productions
of America] was, don't paint backgrounds, but make the color
part of the dramatic intent. My ideas was, don't put the
character in front of the background, but put the character
in the background. That's another scene.
ZOLOTOW: Let's finish with the years at Disney. When did
you leave Disney?
ENGEL: Well, I left Disney around, about '42 and then went
into the Air Force,
ZOLOTOW: Up to that point, nobody from the world of painting
had ever affected the Disney people in any way?
ENGEL: You couldn't because, Walt had a point of view, and
that point of view, for him, was all right. But that point of
view of course was Walt's feeling about what he wanted. Walt
was a tremendous talent. He had the instinct of an entertainer.
He had an instinct of a director. And he directed every damn
thing that came out of that place while he was there. He
looked at the rushes, he looked at the rough reels, and Walt
said yes or no. There's no question about it. He was an
entertainer, but the kind of entertainer that was right for
him. In that sense, he was 100 percent. And he would not
deviate from it. He had a feel for that. I remember we were
in a session on the "Dance of Hours," of the ostriches, and
we were in a sweatbox, looking at a rough reel, at the early
part, when the ostriches were beginning to wake up. Walt
looked at the damn thing, and he said, when somebody wakes up,
then that person goes [Engel gestures] like that, you
know. And you say now, that was right, for him, to spot
that. So he had that natural instinct of performance,
like a lot of directors--like [D.W.] Griffith. I mean,
what the hell, Griffith became a great director, yet he
was a lousy actor. He was such a lousy actor they kicked
him out of the studio.
ZOLOTOW: As you talk, you're moving a lot like an animator,
which is really interesting. Do you think that this is
part of what Walt gave you, that you took on with you to
use in other places?
ENGEL: No, no, no--no way. No way. I think that aspect
of me using my hands, [laughter] I think that's European.
ZOLOTOW: That's Hungarian.
ENGEL: I think that's European. No, I didn't get anything
ZOLOTOW: You know, that particular gesture that you went
through when you were imitating Walt--
ENGEL: I was imitating him.
ZOLOTOW: That's a very animatory thing to do.
ENGEL: But he had that feeling, you know, of what was right,
what felt good, how a person would react. He had all that.
ZOLOTOW: Well, did you get some of that stuff out of those
ENGEL: No, because if I knew what he was doing and why,
then I already knew the stuff. This is obvious. I know I'm
going to sound goddamned conceited, but I had all those
feelings. In other words, I brought a lot to that place,
in a lot of those areas. But for me, it was all just
part of me, since I'd seen an awful lot of ballet and an
awful lot of theater and liked that world.
In fact, I was already involved also in a little
theater. That's right, I was very much involved in a
little theater in Hollywood. At that time I was in plays.
I did it out of necessity, because I couldn't talk in front
of people. I couldn't open my mouth. So I went to Anita
Dickson Academy of Theater to take diction. I couldn't
talk, I was so scared.
ZOLOTOW: But what about the meetings at the studio?
ENGEL: Well, it was very rough on me, because I died
every time I had to--
ZOLOTOW: — express yourself.
ENGEL: Or say anything. And I was very shy, enormously
shy. And that's why sometimes I said very little in those
big meetings. I was different when I got to know people.
But I went to the Anita Dickson theater to overcome the
fright, and before you know it, they put me in a play. I
don't tell it to lots of people. I died every time I went
on stage, but I forced myself to do it, because I knew I
needed to overcome this fright.
I know other people say other things about Walt
influencing their life. Of course, it would influence
you if you'd had forty years. But I was only there about
three and a half, four years. And I fought more for what
I wanted to get out into the thing than I got from them,
because as I say, these people, most of them were not
ZOLOTOW: Yes, Walt had invented the animation technique,
the in-betweening and everything that you learned. I mean,
in a sense, everybody was his child.
ENGEL: Well, not everybody was his child, and the animation
was already on the scene, it was already invented. All
that stuff was already in motion, the in-betweening and all "
this. But Walt had ideas. You see, if Walt was a good
artist-- Walt, let's face it, you know, he couldn't draw
like his talent. But it's not important, because as I say,
like Griffith couldn't act, he had all the other ingredients.
He wanted to do things. You know, he had these dreams.
And he knew how to do it, because he looked at the stock
and he said, "No, I don't want this--I want that. Forget
it." But Walt was the drive. He was a force in the place.
And so you were doing things with the idea that he would
like what you're doing, because he would either come in and
he'd buy it, or he would say, "No, I don't like that. I'm
not going to buy that. So start all over again." But his
instincts for his needs were right. Naturally my desire.
like doing the "Russian Dance," and all that--of enormous
simplicity--it was bought, as I said, because we ran out
of money. But in other areas, he wouldn't buy it, because
he wanted things always to be right in front of you, not
hidden. It was never to suggest the idea. It was put in
front of you. But, what the hell, if you could gain a
ZOLOTOW: Then after Walter was the Air Force. I guess
that must be where UPA started.
ENGEL: Yes, the Air Force. Then came the Air Force, and
we were at Hal Roach in Culver City. And UPA was, in a
small way, in motion. But John Hubley was at Hal Roach,
Bill Hurtz, Herb Klynn, myself, Rudi LoRiva, Willa Spire.
So the bulk was already in motion there. And the good
thing there was that a lot of ideas were put into motion
doing training films for the Air Force.
ZOLOTOW: You had more sympathetic ears, didn't you?
ENGEL: Well, also, you see, the Air Force was new. They
set up a motion picture unit, and the people would come
around and say, "Well, you guys know what the hell it's
all about, so we're not going to tell you how to do it."
So in the animation unit, where I was involved now for the
first time, because they didn't care, we were able to use
shapes, sizes, and all kinds of things for certain things.
I remember I had to do a map--I had about five or eight
cities. Well, I made little Kandinsky-like images of
each city. I made a down shot, so I had to stand on a
wall. And I remember bhis lieutenant came in--his name
was Baer, and before, I think, he was working with Orson
Welles. He came into the room and (I was just a sergeant)
and he looked at the map, and he says, "God damn it, they
look like Kandinsky." [laughter] Well, son of a bitch,
evidently he knew something about art. But the other
people didn't say that or didn't realize that. "Are you
kidding?" He looked at the map and said that's what it is.
Well, in a sense I was doing that. But that is a small
thing. But at the same time we were able to do all kinds
of things. Like we were sending food over to some other
countries, and [we were supposed to] show the stuff. And
instead of using apples, oranges, bananas, we used words:
apples , oranges . So in a sense, the Air Force was by the
far the best environment to try out ideas that other studios
[wouldn ' t use] .
ZOLOTOW: If it worked, they bought it, eh?
ENGEL: Oh, they bought it. If it worked, they bought it.
And they said, "Well, you know what this is all about. We
don't." And that was the most democratic studio I had ever
ZOLOTOW: I wasn't aware of that.
ENGEL: We could do anything we wanted to do, and we did it.
We tried out all kinds of graphic inventions.
ZOLOTOW: Bill Hurtz must have been a kid in those years.
I had the idea he was a lot younger than you and Hubley
and the others.
ENGEL: Funny, because he was the one married already. I
remember we would go out to nightclubs, and they would
always ask for his cards, because he had those eyelashes.
ZOLOTOW: He just looked young.
ENGEL: He looked like eighteen — no, he looked like sixteen.
But anyone with a f ace--generally people who have tiny noses
and big eyes and round heads--
ZOLOTOW: Was he fairly sophisticated about what was going
on in the world of painting?
ENGEL: Yes, well, this, you see, is what then motivated
UPA, because men like Hurtz and like Hubley--and of course
Herb Klynn was a very important man. He's always been
overlooked and not given credit. Herb was the first of
what I consider--don ' t forget we're talking about that
world--was the first really fine graphic artist in the
whole business, including Disney and everybody else.
ZOLOTOW: I remember Herb Klynn used to get copies of
Arts et Metiers Graphiques and Gebelsgraf ik — all the
European art magazines. I remember him as being aware.
Now, was that true? He was totally aware?
ENGEL: He was more than aware; he was able to do it.
Because I remember we were working with Alvin Lustig doing
the Magoo titles, and Herb had to go over the damn thing
to correct the lettering. Fantastic lettering! Airbrush,
colorist--he had that stuff.
ZOLOTOW: Is he as important a factor as Hubley?
ENGEL: Well, for me, yes, because the first titles on UPA
films, on the early three that we did for Columbia, if you
see the title pages, it was all designed by Herb. Now,
those were the first really sophisticated titles that came
out of the whole goddamned motion picture industry. Let me
put it that way.
ZOLOTOW: Where was Herb trained?
ENGEL: Ohio. And he had a very, very — I mean, his training
was very strong. And he knew about color. He knew about
the chemistry of color. He did airbrushing that you
ZOLOTOW: Did he know about French painting?
ENGEL: He knew everything about all that! He was with us
at Culver City. But he was a civilian working for the Air
Force. UPA was already in motion on Vine Street, and I was
working there, evenings or weekends, doing coloring. They
needed a lettering man on a sequence, and I said, "There's
a guy in the Air Force. His name's Herb Klynn. He's very
good at lettering." Well, they got him up there. And
that was it. That was the beginning. I got him up there.
ZOLOTOW: That's fabulous.
ENGEL: Yes. And you see, if you realize that those title
cards were an early UPA function from the very beginning
and they were all designed by Herb--now you put those
cards against all the other stuff in the whole industry,
including the live action — nobody had that effect. That
was the thing that started even the--because, you see,
then we had the first job at UPA, "Fourposter , " which was
Hubley's job. The motion picture people seeing those
titles was also a reason why the jobs came to UPA. That
was the first live action picture where you really had
titles. Saul [Bass] came much later. In fact. Herb and
I were doing outside jobs for the Mirisch Company, about
eighteen full-page ads in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.
We did a full-page ad, which is the first one, I think in
1951 or '52 for A Woman with Four Faces (I have that some-
place) , where she [Joanne Woodward] won the Oscar. Full-
page ads in Variety and Reporter . [The movie in question ■
was actually called The Three Faces of Eve (1957) .] So we
were doing--see, this is Herb's contribution.
ZOLOTOW: Wasn't Herb involved in a law suit with Saul?
Wasn't that — ?
ENGEL: No, that was Les Goldman.
So Herb, for me, was very important in the whole
structure of the picture business, and then if you want to
come down, just the animation business, because he was
the first man who was able to put this kind of a really
refined typography on the screen, plus color. Because
he was the one responsible —
ZOLOTOW: I'm interested in this connection to painting.
ENGEL: Now, he was painting all the time here. He was
painting all the time. In fact, we had a couple of shows
together. He was very good. But then Herb got naturally
more and more involved with management, because now, you
see. Herb was made manager of the whole studio at UPA.
See, he not only had these other talents [with] the brush,
but he was very good in an executive area, to write up
contracts and all of that. Of course, also there's
another side. But he was put into that position, and he
was very good at that. So he was painting, and although
he still paints, his painting, even five, eight, ten years
back, was already on a downfall, because —
ZOLOTOW: Can you visualize to me what it was like when it
was good--say, fifteen years ago--what he was interested in?
ENGEL: Very articulate. He always painted people or houses
and streets, all that, very articulate painting at first,
almost a little bit like [Charles] Sheeler, the early
ZOLOTOW: The American Sheeler?
ENGEL: Yes. You know, he painted those factories.
ZOLOTOW: Sure, like photography. Very much like photo-
ENGEL: Well, he had perspective in his work. Herb was
painting like that then, very hard-edge, but —
ZOLOTOW: Sheeier was the only one in America doing it
at that time.
ENGEL: Sheeier has a lot of atmosphere and mood, whereas
Herb had a very beautiful color sense, excellent.
ENGEL: And very flat. Then he goes away from that and
gets very impressionistic and stuff like that. But he
ZOLOTOW: But it is kind of a sign that he was aware
and influenced by that whole Georgia 0 ' Keef f e- [ John] Marin-
Sheeler American school.
ENGEL: No, he had all of that. Herb had all of that. Well,
Hubley was aware; Bill Hurtz was aware; and I was aware.
So that, you see, was the gut of the UPA. Now, the other
most important man was, of course, Robert Cannon, the
animator. And Robert Cannon was the important man. And
also what was about Cannon was that he had this idea again
of how to move, how to animate. Which was not the Disney
approach. Some people call it animation, which it's not.
But the thing about Cannon--because I worked closely with
him--was that Cannon was open to ideas and wanted to do
fresh and new things. He would go along with me and Herb
because he didn't have the graphic, the color, like Hubley
had. Hubley had all that, because Hubley was painting and
whatnot. But Cannon was not that. Cannon was an animator,
a most creative animator, and a filmmaker. But all of that
was instinctive. It was intuitive with him. Hub was more
the artist. But Cannon would go with Herb and me on visual
or graphic concepts, you see, because he knew that was right
and he knew instinctively. This is how Jaywalker, Fudget' s
Budget, stuff like that were created. See, Hub left very
early — Hub left in '52 or '53.
ZOLOTOW : I have wondered, in my mind, to distinguish between
what the Disney people were thinking about movement and the
way you people started to think about movement, and one
idea popped into my head that I want to test on you. Disney
was always trying to create sort of Renaissance space. All
his movements had to be the movements of volumes in space.
But it appeared to me that cubist space, flat space, suddenly
appeared in UPA, and that made it possible to make moves
that weren't volumes in space but were moves parallel to the
picture plane and other moves. Now, am I crazy, or is that
really — ?
ENGEL: Well, you're putting it into a very intellectual and
sophisticated level, because this feeling of Renaissance
space and all that--Disney wouldn't know what the hell you
were talking about. You don't need to make an intellectual
movement out of something that had nothing to do with intel-
ligence. Disney was strictly commercially oriented. His
people working at the studio wouldn't know what you were
talking about either. Nor would his animators. What they
were aware of was that they had to create personalities in
order for a studio like that to exist, to function. And
this is where Walt was, again, what he was. He had to
create personalities. Mickey Mouse was a personality but
certainly not Renaissance in any way. Mickey Mouse was
like a [Charlie] Chaplin, let's say, for another studio.
Donald Duck, let's say, came like a Jerry Lewis. In other
words, they had to create personalities in order for the
studio to live, to function. Like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had
people under contract. So when you create this kind of
personality, which is very close to reality, you have to
animate them as close to reality as you possibly can. So
whatever was going on around the character, it was a natural
thing that if you have a character, like a Donald Duck or a
Goofy, who had all the characteristics of a human being
moving, they had to put him in a room, which has the charac-
teristic of a natural environment. They were thinking on
that level. But the important thing was to create personali-
ties, [phone rings; tape recorder turned off]
ZOLOTOW: Yes, go back to the Disney days a little.
ENGEL: So Disney was out to create personalities, like
a major studio had a Clark Gable and a Harold Lloyd and
Douglas Fairbanks and all those people under contract.
They became merchandise of the major studios. So Disney
was creating personalities in order to hang the whole
studio on it. If you have personalities like that, then
naturally they are going to impersonate a real person,
and then they had to move like a real person. And if
you're going to have a real person working for you, then
the physical environment has to also be real. The best
people that could give that reality were the painters that
were functioning, and they were thinking of painting of
that kind. And one of the large talents as a painter-
talent, I think, was Lee Blair, who was also one of the
great West Coast watercolorists , like Barse Miller, Millard
Sheets, Phil Dike, and even Emil Kosa, Jr.
ZOLOTOW: Did Kosa work for — ?
ENGEL: No, but these were the people that made the scene.
And all the painters at that time were influenced by these
people's watercolors. So the Disney background painters
were all painters of that ilk. They had no other desire,
and they had no other need. Barse Miller and Millard
Sheets and Phil Dike were the best of that type. Also,
the film, the character, needed that kind of environment.
Of course, that was Walt's bag, working in that terrain.
ZOLOTOW: Well now, wait a minute. The characters were
abstract. I mean, what the hell could be more abstract
ENGEL: You might use the word abstract, but they would
die if you used the word abstract .
ZOLOTOW: I understand that.
ENGEL: No. Mickey Mouse is not abstract like abstract
art. As far as they were concerned, the characters had
dimension. The characters were three-dimensional. And
then you go into Snow White, and Snow White was airbrushed,
and the face was three-dimensional. In Bambi the characters
were three-dimensional. They had volumes; they had--
ZOLOTOW: Yes, but the volumes were always eggshapes ,
ellipses. In a sense, that's a high degree of abstraction.
ENGEL: They had to do that in order to give it a kind of
structure that anybody can pick up and say, "Here's the
structure." The head is a circle, the body is an eggshape .
So you had to have the structure underneath all that so
anyone can pick it up and work with it, and also because it
was easier to maneuver, to animate those shapes. You can
put a structure in that very easily and locate the place
for the eye and the nose and all that. But the whole aspect
of it was still a natural environment, where a three-
dimensional person who behaves like a real person can
function; therefore, the painter had to be painterly, didn't
have to be an artist. He was more or less a renderer.
ZOLOTOW: Except I do remember distortions of size,
distortions of color.
ENGEL: Well, the size and all that. You have no choice.
You got to have that because you're still working with
the film. You're working with a medium that is the
property of the poets. But, you see, a lot of those
things came about because they had no choice. They had
to go, but it was never done with any kind of a static
ZOLOTOW: Well, most painters don't do their own-- Theories
come after the fact, right?
ENGEL: Yes, somebody thinks them up later.
ZOLOTOW: Naturally, Walt and those guys wouldn't have
theory. But you must see, you know, that theirs was not a
school of photorealism, and theirs was not a school of
realism. Theirs was a pretty abstract way of drawing and
painting, even though they didn't know it.
ENGEL: As far as they were concerned, their scene was
realism, total realism when they painted the leaves and the
ZOLOTOW: They thought mice looked like Mickey? [laughter]
ENGEL: Come on-- I mean when they painted the trees and
the grass and the meadows and the flowers and all that, it
was really — if you were around there, that was realism.
And if you, as I say, look at the Snow White backgrounds,
Peter Pan, Pinocchio , you know, Bambi backgrounds-- [they
are] almost photographic. And once in a while they would
get off, maybe, and push the other way, but the other way
was not good because that wasn't Walt's scene. This is
where you have to give the man his credit. No matter
what happened with any other person in the world, and no
matter how successful it was, Walt said, "That's not me."
And he said that! "That's not me. I can't think that
way." I mean, he was aware of UPA--people mentioned and
things were said about UPA--but Walt said, "That's not
me." And in that sense, you have to give him his credit,
that he wouldn't just say, "Hey, look, those guys are
doing something great over there. Why don't we do it
better?" Frankly, when they tried to do something like
that, and although they say it's not, it was bad, [like]
Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom. I don't care what they
say — because they say, "No, it's not UPA inf luence"--but
damn it, it is UPA influence because they tried to go into
the flat design. And it's a disaster, because the taste
is bad, the color is bad. They didn't work it from in
their gut, you know. They were working it like, "Look,
Ma, I made an abstraction."
In other words, they had the talent to do the other
stuff, but in this area, for me, they only worked the
surface, and the surface wasn't good. And this is what a
lot of people don't understand about UPA, because even
now, you hear animators talk about like, "Oh, yeah, we'll
do those backgrounds, we do those backgrounds." But it's
not good because they don't work it out. They just look
at it, and they think, "We'll copy it."
ZOLOTOW: There's no question that Disney worked from his
gut. And I think that's why the young people now look
back and see Disney through different eyes. Now, how about
you? Does Disney's stuff look different to you now than it-
did when you were in the middle of it, rebelling against it?
Do you place a higher value on it, now?
ENGEL: No, I don't. I feel that it was right for the time,
and it was right for Disney. And it was right for the
animators. There are sequences, there are moments in some
of the Disney efforts, like the pink elephant sequence in
Dumbo, when you see that thing today, it's magic, it's
beautiful. And how the hell that ever got made in that
environment is still a mystery. That is a beautiful piece
of motion, movement. But I don't get taken with the stuff.
I admire the craft, and you have to start someplace. But
ZOLOTOW: I notice you're not wearing a Mickey Mouse watch,
ENGEL: I could never do that, because I cannot advertise
other people. I don't want to advertise other people.
That's what you're doing when you carry it. But I still
don't have that feel for what they did, because, damn it,
when I see some stuff of Jan Lenica or [Walerian]
Borowczyk or I see an early [Oskar] Fischinger or a [Norman]
McLaren, it's still the thing that turns me on. And
although I admire the craft, the animation know-how, of
Pinocchio and some of the Bambi stuff, it doesn't turn
me on, you see. So that's the difference. And in that
sense my feeling, my sensitivities are not changed. But
I do admire Disney as a person who had a sense of direction.
And he would never let go, just to get on a bandwagon of
another art form, good, bad —
But then again, in the world of entertainment, you
know, there is an enormous amount of room for all kinds
of endeavors. There are people who would be entertained
with that, and there are people who will not be entertained.
And you can't just go one direction, because you're still
dealing with the mass media. You're still dealing with
mass entertainment of a kind.
TAPE NUMBER: II [VIDEO SESSION]
JANUARY 23, 19 76
ZOLOTOW: The room is filled with film cans, animation
cells, sculpture, painting, the products of a long and
active career as a painter and sculptor and filmmaker.
[tape recorder turned off] The area you are living in
is surrounded by all wonderful things, Jules. Is that
why you moved here to Beverly Hills? Why do you live
ENGEL: Well, because it's about the closest thing to a
city in L.A. , and I love cities. I like the idea of
walking out on the street and walking to a shop, walking
over to the laundry, or walking over to the bank or the
post office. And I like the feeling of the city itself:
I like buildings, I like windows, I like front doors, I
like hotel lobbies. I would really like to live in New
York. That's the kind of life I like surrounding me.
ZOLOTOW: Yes, in a way, it's like living off Fifth
Avenue in New York.
ENGEL: That's pretty good. Or Madison Avenue and
Seventy-seventh, that environment.
ZOLOTOW: When Frank Perls had his gallery here, did you
hang around there a lot?
ENGEL: Yes, I used to go up there and see him. He was a
great influence, you know, on the Los Angeles environment,
a great personality. Plus I spent some time with him in
Paris at Deux Magots. I would find him sitting out there
on the street.
ZOLOTOW: What about Herb Palmer's new gallery?
ENGEL: I think that's a great gallery, and he's a very
unique personality. He always adds a lot of excitement
to the city. His first shows were very good, very inter-
esting, and I just hope he stays there and keeps it going.
It's the only way you can get a city like Los Angeles on
the map, is to have knowledgeable people stay for years
and build an art environment, you know.
ZOLOTOW: Have you been on the whole disappointed by the
art scene and the gallery scene in Beverly Hills?
ENGEL: Well, yes, because we just don't seem to have an
honest and in-depth interest. It's a little bit too
artificial, too much like table-hopping, you know. This
is fashionable today — that's fashionable tomorrow. There's
no reference to historical foundation. We are always
working in a very small group in the city. You see, in
New York, you have two or three dozen large galleries.
You have half a dozen museums. So you have all kinds of
avenues for expression. But here you have someone who
can command like a high priest, and does command, "This
is the way we go," and everybody then follows him. In
other words, there are no avenues here.
ZOLOTOW: Have you ever been tempted to move to New York?
ENGEL: Oh, I've been tempted a hundred times. [laughter]
ZOLOTOW: What made you resist?
ENGEL: I'm not resisting; it's just that the working oppor-
tunities for me have always somehow been here. But if I
have a chance (as I do once a year) to go anyplace, it's
always New York.
ZOLOTOW: But didn't John Hubley create a center in New
York that you might have worked at?
ENGEL: Well, he has a center, but that's not my center;
that's John Hubley 's center because Hubley is Hubley. And
I am not John Hubley. I have to consider my media of
abstract animation and of art animation. This style is
not in any way commercial like Hubley' s. So if I would
go to New York, I would create my own center, and I would
let Hubley have his.
ZOLOTOW: Jules! Here's this big, fat book on Disney,
and it makes me think of what we were talking about when
you were reminded of Fantasia , the role you played, and
what happened. Tell me about Fantasia, and what you did.
ENGEL: Well, I was hired to do, very specifically, the
choreography for the "Chinese Dance" and the "Russian
Dance," and then later I got involved with "Dance of the
Flutes" and the "Arabian Dance." But evidently they had
problems with the "Chinese Dance" and the "Russian Dance,"
because no one in that particular unit had any background
or knowledge or insight of what the dance world is all
about, what choreography's all about. And I had some
drawings, you know, so I took it over there. And Phil
Dike saw the material, and he said, "I would like you to
work on the continuity "--which means the choreography--"on
the 'Chinese Dance.'" So that was the beginning of my
experience with the Disney studio, working on the sequences
of the "Chinese Dance" of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.
ZOLOTOW: Did they feel they were out of their depth with
ENGEL: Well, I mean, they never really adapted serious
music, but Disney was going to do this project, and it
came from, you know, it came from [Leopold] Stokowski, but
I also understand that before Stokowski, it actually came
from Oskar Fischinger, from Oskar Fischinger to Stokowski,
from Stokowski to Disney. Somehow they liked the idea,
and I think Disney felt that he wanted to do something
that was unique, something different, and it was just a
natural direction. But they were not in love with that
world, because, you see, they interpreted it into a kind
of a calendar art. That was about the height of [their]
ZOLOTOW: Did they feel that that world was above them, or--
ENGEL : It was above them, because, you know, you were
easily made fun of there if you considered art, or were
considered to be an artist. Art and art appreciation were
things that Disney was not very comfortable with--with the
exception of a few people. But you see, generally, it was
out of their range completely.
ZOLOTOW: But yet they were deep into music. What kind
of music was Disney involved with in that period?
ENGEL: The music they were involved with would be the
composer who would score — like they scored a very
handsome piece for Snow White. So it was a popular
music, a popular talent, a composer who would just write
a popular tune, "Whistle VJhile You Work" and stuff like
that. Unfortunately it's no different today. They do
the same thing as they did then--no progress.
ZOLOTOW: I'm curious to know how you introduced some of
your contemporary ideas into Fantasia . How were they
visualizing their story boards? Did you play a role in
changing their vision of how Fantasia should be shot?
ENGEL: I was very specifically put on the "Chinese Dancer."
Of course, they wanted to do a Chinese dance with a lot of
mushrooms jumping around the base of a tree with a lot of
roots and a lot of weeds and this or that all over the place.
My intention was to keep it very simple, to get rid of all
the background environment and just have a nice, flat.
simple black environment, black backdrop on a stage, you
see. Simplicity is something I have always believed in.
You would have a backdrop and then you need light--any
light source, just have a light shade that gives you the
idea that light is coming from someplace. So this aspect
of just having black and not having any texture, any
physical gimmicks around these little characters, was very
difficult for them to understand. You look at Fantasia;
everything else is just crowded, constantly crowded with
all kinds of images and shapes and forms. But I think
actually what happened with this section was that eventu-
ally they ran out of money. Anyway, that was my under-
standing. The budget was quickly disappearing, and the
fact that we were going to work with a black background,
that means we don't have to put any background artists on
it. This made sense to them, the finances. And today, I
think it paid off beautifully, because both the "Russian
Dance" and the "Chinese Dance" have a beautiful presence,
almost as if they were done today. That is the test--if
it will hold today and tomorrow. Naturally it was a lot
of fighting, an awful lot of fights over that, to put the
ZOLOTOW: Do you have any drawings from that period?
ENGEL: I have some materials here which I used to propose
the character or the spirit of dancing. The color here
is very important, because the way I used color, it was
again very fresh and very much removed from their use of
color, which related more to using color the way an illus-
trator would. In these examples the primaries and the
secondaries are just as brilliant but loose and not
worked over, not too much underpainting and all that stuff.
This is just brilliant colors on a black background, v/here
color has a chance to come through into life.
ZOLOTOW: Did Walt ever see these drawings?
ENGEL: No, Walt never saw these drawings because the
studio people were a little afraid that this stuff looked
a little too way out than what they were used to. In fact,
they told me to hide those drawings and not to let Walt see
them. In fact, this is very abstract in character, and
they told me not to use the word abstract when we went
into sessions with Walt, because, I said before, you would
be looked at as either an egghead or an intellectual or
some kind of weird, weird character. So these are some of
the drawings, you know, that got by, however, even though
I hid them. You know, if I hadn't put these drawings away,
someone would have torn them up. The Disney people never
allowed you any feeling of creativity, just craft, copying.
It was a surprise to them and a miracle to me that these
drawings got in.
ZOLOTOW: You weren't the only egghead around during that
period. Wasn't Rico Lebrun on the Disney lot at the time?
ENGEL: Rico was on the Disney lot at that time. He was
already training some of the key animators, and animators
in general that were going to draw for Bambi. And I think
his role was very comfortable, to be quite blunt. After
all, he was an immaculate draftsman. All they could do
was admire him, because this is what most of them wanted
to be. Or I think they thought they were safe with him.
He was one of them; he drew real things. They were crafts-
men of enormous talent, but Lebrun 's influence was very
important. You can see the deer, for instance, in Snow
White and see how it's almost a bad drawing. And you
compare the deer in Bambi; it's an enormous difference.
At least now they were under the influence of impeccable
ZOLOTOW: And they knew where the bones and muscles were.
ENGEL: Yes, in fact, Lebrun made a number of the sketches,
and they turned this into books. And here you can see a
drawing of Rico Lebrun' s. And it gave them an idea of what
the bone structure of the animal was all about. He had,
I think, about twenty or thirty pages of different drawings —
any position, every position of the deer. I mean, he was
something very, very special, an enormous draftsman, a great
draftsman. And that's what Disney wanted.
ZOLOTOW: This is a far cry from the ellipses that the
Disney people animated. Did they resist this kind of
attitude toward drawing when Rico introduced it at first?
ENGEL: As I told you already, Lebrun was very comfortable
at Disney. Actually, Walt wanted the animals to look, you
know, real--at least as much, or as close to something
real. Now, when he got to other characters, like a small
rabbit or a skunk, and stuff like that, naturally they
went back to their other style of drawing. But when it
was deer, when it was Bambi, or the father or the mother
of Bambi, I mean, those characters were extremely well
drawn. So they had no choice. They couldn't resist or
fight it because Walt wanted it to be done that way. After
all, Walt was the boss in the place. This was his dream,
and these people had to follow--to make the dream the
ZOLOTOW: Did you get to know Rico during that period?
ENGEL: Yes, I got to know Rico pretty well, not so much
in there, but I got to know him after that because he
used to lecture a great deal at Frank Perls 's. Frank had
a gallery; he used to lecture there. I knew him socially.
And he was an enormous influence on the whole Los Angeles
scene. Of course, two artists. Bill Brice and Howard
Warshaw, were really, at that time, his disciples, and then
Edith Wyle was very much--you know, she has The Egg and the
Eye today. But Brice and Warshaw really were his students.
ZOLOTOW: If you consider how big the Jepson Art Institute
was, how do you account for the fact that so few painters
survived from the number of painters that passed through
ENGEL: Well, I would say that L.A. art in general was
based on the Western watercolorists , as compared with the
New York artists, who built their foundations on the
experimental. So in a historical sense, Lebrun was not a
trendsetter. You cannot be safe with safe art. Anyway,
what happened to him? [Herbert Jepson]
ZOLOTOW: I don't know.
ENGEL: I saw him recently at a dance festival. I think
the only two who really are around and working and exhibit-
ing are Brice and Warshaw.
ZOLOTOW: Brice and Warshaw were already mature young men
when they met Rico. Of the people that Rico touched as
young students, can you think of any that are still active
ENGEL: Not really. I think one reason--when you are being
touched by a master like that, I think it's a very bad
thing. And maybe that is what destroyed a lot of those
people, because they were living on Lebrun's talent, on
his personality. And if you do that, you die. You just
can't do that. You have to find your own way. I think
most of those people just didn't find their way.
ZOLOTOW: How do you account for the fact that there was
seemingly no connection between Lebrun's group and the
painters that followed? Did you reject Rico's stuff
because you were an abstract painter?
ENGEL: Oh, no, no, no. Plus I could never reject Rico's
works, but I could reject anybody else's work who tried
to emulate Lebrun. You understand that that's the way
the cookie crumbles? Rico commanded an enormous presence.
When he moved into sculpture, I think that Lebrun's large
talent was in that, but it came too late. All the others
tried to be Lebrun. The minute you try to be what you
can't, there's no future.
ZOLOTOW: How ' d you get this Lebrun here, the one on the
ENGEL: I think I bought it from somebody who wanted to
pick up some extra dollars.
ZOLOTOW: What year did you buy it?
ENGEL: I think I bought it around '59, 1960. I picked
it up from somebody, but I don't even remember who owned
the painting. All I know, it was just a lot of people
around and somebody needed some money.
ZOLOTOW: Was this before the [Lebrun] "Crucifixion [Series]"
exhibit at the museum or after?
ENGEL: No, I think it was before; I think it was before.
[tape recorder turned off]
ZOLOTOW: That was an interesting period. There was a lot
of activity in painting then. Among the guys who were
working in animation, how many of them were exhibiting
painters in those years besides yourself?
ENGEL: There was Paul Julian. He was exhibiting and
Bob Mcintosh was exhibiting. And I think a little later,
of course, there was Herb Klynn who also was exhibiting.
ZOLOTOW: Where did he show?
ENGEL: I think Herb was showing at Leonard Grossman
gallery, Leonard Grossman with, I think, Paul Julian
probably and Bob Mcintosh, because that was the only, what
we call avant-garde gallery in Los Angeles, Clara Grossman's
on Hollywood Boulevard.
ZOLOTOW: I remember Julian showing at the Felix Landau
Gallery on La Cienega. And I remember sculpture by--
ENGEL: --by Paul. Paul very specifically was in the stable
of Felix Landau, whereas Mcintosh I think was more or less
showing wherever he had the opportunity. Also I think Helen
Wurdemann was an enormous influence at that time. She had
a gallery on Wilshire Boulevard, where the Otis Art Insti-
tute is. In fact, most of us, at that time, showed the
first time at Helen Wurdemann ' s gallery on Wilshire Boulevard,
Because somehow, somebody would recommend you for a show.
Like, let's say there was a new painter, someone would
recommend you and you would be showing there. Yes, that was.
I think, a very important place for Los Angeles painters
to make their first presence.
ZOLOTOW : What were you doing at that time? What kind of
ENGEL: At that time, I was doing very hard-edge, very
abstract [work]. My early work was hard-edge.
ZOLOTOW: You mean like that one over there?
ENGEL: Like this one down here, and then there's another
one. This is also an early one. This was characteristic
of my work of that time--very geometrical, hard-edge, almost
architectural in character.
ZOLOTOW: What medium were you working in?
ENGEL: Mostly watercolor or gouache. But I could use a
Windsor-Newton and make it look like gouache. But mostly
ZOLOTOW: Did you ever work with the stuff you worked with
every day, at the s tudio--cells and--?
ENGEL: No, I didn't use any cells on any of my work. The
paint that we used at the studio was very cheap, cheap,
cheap paint. So I would never use that for my work, because
that stuff was always just throwaway.
ZOLOTOW: How did you relate the two things — what you did
at the studio and what you did at home?
ENGEL: Well, I think the most important thing was trying
to take something into the film that I was doing, let's
say, of my own work. In other words, the simplicity, the
directness, the flat aspect of the painting, the color
taste, the color choice was something that I wanted to
project into the work at the studio. That was, of course,
a natural direction, especially if you didn't like anything
that you saw around you.
ZOLOTOW : Did it ever work the other, way around? Did you
ever want to take some of the things that were happening in
film and move it into painting?
ENGEL: No. The most elementary thing being motion, I
wanted to use my artwork in film. I was always interested
in motion, and that aspect of motion didn't come to me
until a little later, of putting just that onto film, what
actually Fischinger was doing earlier. So the motion
aspect of it is a big factor.
ZOLOTOW: Well, the painters and the futurists in the
twenties were concerned with motion. Did you ever get
into that kind of representation of motion on a canvas?
ENGEL: No, no way. No way. No, they didn't interest me,
because I was much more interested in almost architectural
image on the canvas. In other words, it was almost like the
idea of using the canvas just as a flat surface, which later
developed into what [Ellsworth] Kelly was doing, and Ad
Reinhardt. It developed into that world, you see. But
the movement, for me, took care of movement for my films.
This is very interesting. I threw away or lost the early
ones. I destroyed the films until I was satisfied with
my work, until about ten, twelve years ago, in 1961, '62,
when I began to consider keeping my pure abstract films
and to put motion onto film. But then I just began using
ZOLOTOW: Could I see some of the abstract things you were
doing during that period? What's that black and white one
over there, Jules, those volumes?
ENGEL: Well, these may be volumes to you, but in animation
these would be seconds of film. This was the beginning,
you see, of moving into that world. This was the first
one. And then there was another one, which was also a
first one of that terrain. And this--
ZOLOTOW: How did you work with these painted surfaces, to
ENGEL: Well, this was wood first. I cut it and glued
onto the background and then painted over.
ZOLOTOW: Did you have film material like this?
ENGEL: No, the film came a little later, but this was the
first--this was the beginning of this kind of a-- Because
you see, this is just pure movement. Here is where, for me,
movement was beginning to be very much part of my work. Not
like the futurists, who went out and wanted to put a loco-
motive or a streetcar or a running horse and stuff like that.
See, again, I go back to the straight line and put the
straight line into motion. For me, the straight line
always means something very, very intriguing. I mean,
the vertical line was very intriguing.
ZOLOTOW: You know, the paper that describes you for this
series calls you a Bauhaus painter, and this is about the
only thing I've seen around that makes me think back to
the Bauhaus and [Laszlo] Moholy [-Nagy] . Do you consider
yourself Bauhaus influenced?
ENGEL: Well, let's say I admire the Bauhaus very much,
but I don't-- Well, I can't help it if people see a con-
tinuity between my work and Bauhaus. I mean, I admire
them enough that I will not be unhappy about that, [laughter;
ZOLOTOW: Maybe it's because you're Hungarian.
ENGEL: Maybe because I'm a Hungarian and because Moholy-
Nagy is a Hungarian and [Gyorgy] Kepes was Hungarian. The
whole group of these characters who were working in that
terrain. But I think this is just the way I am put together.
It's my chemistry, and it is not a question of Bauhaus,
you know, because I could just forget the damn thing and
do something else. But I still am wedded to this character
of very structured and organized imagery on a canvas. This
intrigues me. And yet Martha Graham intrigues me, and
Alvin Alley intrigues me, and Twyla Tharp intrigues me.
That's an enormous contradiction to your Bauhaus idea of me.
of what they do and how they move on stage, isn't it?
ZOLOTOW: Did you ever draw them as people?
ENGEL: No, I have absolutely never had any desire ever
to draw people. Never.
ZOLOTOW: Have you ever photographed people?
ENGEL: No, I don't even like to photograph people. I
feel I'm intruding on their privacy, and I think they have
every right to resent being photographed.
ZOLOTOW: Have you ever photgraphed objects?
ENGEL: Objects, yes. Oh, yes. Chairs all over the place.
Buildings, s tairways--anything and everything. See, for me,
a person comes to life on the stage either in the theater
or as a dance on stage.
ZOLOTOW: Did you ever do sets for the theater?
ENGEL: Oh, sets I've done. I did sets in Paris. I did
a very important play, LesJouex. I designed a set for
Les Jouex, a very contemporary play. And also other
ZOLOTOW: Let's move on, along the work there, and see what
other periods you have there. This kind of complicated
spatial diagram is one. What's happening back there?
ENGEL: These paintings are of more recent vintage.
ZOLOTOW: Is that a serigraph?
ENGEL: That's a serigraph, yes. But here again I'm
working with these particular shapes that I'm always
intrigued with. In fact, I put this into animation, where
it turned out to be a little bit too much work, and too
complicated. After about eighteen or twenty-four drawings,
I think I gave it up, and then worked them into a single
ZOLOTOW: When we were talking about Disney, we were talking
about his preoccupations with volumes and deep space. In a
way, you're going back to representing deep space, except
that you've got a lot of perspective at work.
ENGEL: But this is totally different; the shapes here are
always in limbo and in space. In other words, I don't put
perspective lines that would tell you that there is a front
and there is a back, see. The only thing that would give
you that feeling, maybe, is because the shape in the fore-
ground is a little larger and the other shape is a little
smaller, so it gives you a feeling of depth. But that
idea of putting perspective lines that would take you back
and stop, I generally don't work with that. It doesn't
exist in any of the work I do or ever did. In other words,
this whole terrain for me is still an area where you do
nothing but excavate and come out and try to find new
ZOLOTOW: You know, it strikes me that most of your work
is very small in scale, just about the same as animation
cell or background. Do you ever do bigger things?
ENGEL: Of course. They are architectural, but these are
mock-ups of the real things.
ZOLOTOW: Where do you think paintings belong?
ENGEL: Painting belongs in a home, in apartments, in
museums. It belongs in the kitchen; it belongs to whenever
and wherever somebody's in love with the painting and wants
to live with it.
ZOLOTOW: Are you one of the film people that thinks that
film and video's going to replace painting?
ENGEL: No way. It's impossible. I think film is important,
I think video is important. But you can't live with film
twenty-four hours a day because it belongs in a can, and
you need a projector, you need a screen, you need all kinds
of gadgets. But beside that, it's another world. It's
another medium. It's a medium where you deal with light.
It's a medium that also is a quickie. What I mean is, when
you see a film--I have a very difficult time seeing a film
twice. The second time they fall apart for me. And I love
films. I mean, I've been in that world all my life. But
the third time they die on me. Whereas painting, there's
some magic about a painting. You can look at the damn
thing and look at the damn thing, and you discover new
avenues in that. But film — the greatest films that I've
seen--oh, let's forget the word great, because that doesn't
exist--but let's say the best of the very good films that
I have seen, the third time, they fall apart. In other
words, because it's still a bastard medium. Which is
good. Which is good. It hadn't found itself yet; it's
developing. And this is healthy. Let's face it, we're
talking about an art that's seventy years old. It's not
like the world of painting, where you have five hundred
years, great artists. I mean, we have seventy years of
film making and--
ZOLOTOW: Well, some people contend that painting is on
its way down, and film is on its way up. How do you
feel about that?
ENGEL : : Oh, I hope film is on the way up. After seventy
years, it has no other place but going up. In other words,
we don't have a Titian or a Rubens, the Rembrandts and El
Grecos and the Goyas, and we certainly have no Picassos,
Braques, and Matisses. And Jackson Pollock. I mean, that's
a point of view. So after seventy years, you have no choice
but going up. But from my point of view, I think a lot
of film making is going down, because they're taking on the
enormous presence of an illustrator. All of a sudden, most
of the films look like they came out of the hand of an illus-
trator. The mediums of the film are not being used to
capacity, let alone beyond this. They're using the camera
to illustrate an illustrator's script. They illustrate.
They are illustrations. They don't even use several images
in order to design a film. What they do, now, they take
a very good picture, an enormously beautiful picture, and
then they keep going into it, let's say for a close-up.
So they compose things inside this piece of illustration,
instead of using first shot, second shot, and a third shot,
and put the three together in such a way that it becomes a
composition that you can only get through films. We're not
doing that. We're beginning to illustrate again. But then,
what the hell, within seventy years--
ZOLOTOW: Are there economic reasons?
ENGEL: Oh, no, no. Talent, talent. That is nothing to do
ZOLOTOW: Well, they tell me that one reason that —
ENGEL: When you spend $11 million on a film, there's no
problem of economics. When you spend 4 million, there's
no problem of economics. What the hell, you can take a piece
of 20x30 inch canvas, and you can put a masterpiece down.
So it's not a question of economics. It's a question of
talent, of thinking.
ZOLOTOW: How does sculpture relate to your painting and
film? When did you get into sculpture?
ENGEL: I got into sculpture around '61. I went to Europe,
and I was very impressed with Rome and Florence and Venice--
that whole environment. [tape recorder turned off]
ZOLOTOW: So sculpture really turned you on in Europe,
and of course you made your things here.
ENGEL: Yes, but I first really saw things there, and what
turned me on really was the structures. I liked their
buildings. I liked the free flow of a lot of the designs
on some of the buildings, and, of course, the great masters,
you know. But I still had no desire to do anything with the
figure, because, again, I went back into the very architec-
tural kind of imagery. And eventually, like, you see this
centerpiece on a table, this is what happened--! began to
realize that there was no sculpture to me that's related to
the American image. See that centerpiece? This is the
American image--the skyscraper. And that's the beginning of
my realization that there's nothing really in this country
that relates truly to the American image. And what the
American image is to me, is really the skyscraper.
Also what turned me on was that some time ago, about that
time, I landed in Washington, D.C., and I saw all this — I saw
Lincoln in a Roman environment. I saw the [Washington] obelisk,
which is an Egyptian thing. I saw all Roman and Greek and Egyp-
tian shapes in Washington, D.C., surrounding the American giants,
you know. And I said, "Wait a minute. There's something wrong
here. Why can't we have some kind of a shape, form, or sculp-
ture, something that relates to this country?" And that was
also one reason that I started to do this kind of shape, which
to me is the American image — nothing Roman, nothing Greek,
nothing Egyptian, nothing but just American New York.
ZOLOTOW: Well, that was what was so wonderful about
animation, the fact that it really was a native art. And
I remember that explosion that occurred when Gerald McBoing
Boing hit the theaters, and for the first time, animation
came from a source outside Disney. How did that happen?
How did UPA grow out of Disney?
ENGEL: First of all, animation is not just a native art.
It had a background other than America. What happened [was
that] some of us-- I worked at Disney, Hubley worked at
Disney, and Bill Hurtz worked at Disney. Let's say that
we had other ideas. We had other concepts of what an
animated film should look like. We were aware, very aware,
that at Disney everybody was pushing the film toward what
we call illustration. I mean, illustration that would work
better in a magazine. Now, of course, there is a place for
all that sort of thing, and there are people who love that.
But we had other points of view, because we were already
very much involved with contemporary art. You know, we were
aware of Matisse. We were aware of Paul Klee and Kandinsky.
Dufy was, I think, very important for us. Leger was very
important for us.
ZOLOTOW: The divorced line was a big thing in animation.
ENGEL: Also we wanted the character flat, and let's not
divorce the character from the background. What they did
over at Disney was that they put the character in front
of the background. And that is even wrong in a world of
theater. When a set designer designs with an idea that
he's going to put a design behind a character, he's already
off on the wrong foot. The important thing for a design,
even in the theater, is to design so the character fits
into the environment. In as much as we decided to work on
a flat surface with the character flat, we wanted to push
the two things together, and flatten out the background,
flatten out the character, and now you're on a terrain, on
a very honest, aesthetic point of view. Because you're
not trying to cheat. You're not trying to make a three-
dimensional background and put a two-dimensional character
That was one of the point of views at UPA that we
were very aware of. We wanted to have that happen and we
did. It really happened and happened big and happened
well in Gerald McBoing Boing. I have some materials here.
Here is Gerald McBoing Boing from one scene. Then here's
another Gerald McBoing Boing. Again, if you notice,
something very interesting here. For instance, you don't
see any lines. You don't see any line that would tell you
where the floor stops and the walls start, and where the
ceiling starts. In other words, the environment is estab-
lished through the shapes that you were putting into the
scene. If you had a shape close and that was large, that
gave you the point of view that this is the foreground.
And then back here, when a shape was smaller, that estab-
lished the position of distance and time.
But this point of view was a good one, and we knew we
were doing something right. We wanted to get away from
what we called just pure Sunday calendar illustration,
that so much of the Disney background was about; and for
us, it constantly fought a flat character. So this was
the beginning of our thinking, of having a flat character
working in a background where he would either do away with
a horizon line where you would say, "This is the ground,
and this is the sky." All that was not important in the
world of painting, because our approach was more of a
painterly approach, or an artist's approach, who was aware
of the flat surface and knew what the hell that is all
ZOLOTOW: Do you think it's comparable to what happened
in cubism, when the picture place got flattened out after
all those years of deep space?
ENGEL: Well, for me, I'm a kind of primitive in thought;
I'm not what you call an intellectual. And I think those
things have to happen. I think there is no choice. I
think an artist, a serious person, will come upon things.
I think Picasso came upon things, because everything else
was there. And he said, "I'm going to do something with
all that, and I have a new point of view." Then he went
about and brought this thing into a position. But also,
I think he did something very interesting, the cubist
approach, that very much exists in film, or in a film
world. Because when you have a close-up and you have a
slow cross-dissolve to a profile and you have a slow
cross-dissolve to another point of view, you now have
three separate aspects of the image, looking at it from
a different position. And they are all on the screen at
the same time. I think in a strange way cubism is very
much in a film world, and I think a lot of filmmakers are
not even aware that this thing really is on the screen,
which is pure cubism, where you show a different aspect of
the image, at the same time, on a screen.
ZOLOTOW: What other influences of French painting can
you see on film? How about that thing you mentioned, Dufy
and the divorced line?
ENGEL: Dufy was very, very, very influential, and I think
I have something here where you can see the divorced line.
Now of course, this is very, very —
ZOLOTOW: That's not so divorced. [laughter]
ENGEL: Well, it is divorced.
ZOLOTOW: That's tightened up.
ENGEL: No, no, it's enormously divorced when you see the
shape and where the black line is working. The divorced
line here is very obvious. But it's very articulate; it's
very clean; it's very neat. You notice we couldn't quite
work Dufy in the film, because you're still dealing with
a piece of merchandise that will be used by millions of
But it was very interesting, because even at [the]
studio at UPA, the animators at first were very much against
this idea of a divorced line from a shape. In fact, they
made fun of it. They were knocking it, and they were
criticizing it quietly. But once it got out there and
people accepted it and we were applauded, then they shut
up, and the criticism then died down. But at first, they
were really not with it, because they said, "What the hell
is the matter with this? There's something wrong. The
line is missing at the edge of the shape."
ZOLOTOW: Where ' d the color come from in those days?
ENGEL: Well, I would think the first big influence at UPA
was from Herb Klynn and myself. Herb was in charge of that
aspect of it, let's say, background color. And I was working
with Herb, and it came from me also. Then Herbie was moved
into a managerial job, and the whole thing was on my shoulder
So color was something that was in my bag, and I then had all
the say-so, the total say-so, all the right to do as I damn
well pleased. And then I really began to push colo: into
this medium that it never really had had before.
ZOLOTOW: You must have been looking at paintings during
that period. Which paintings do you think influenced your
use of color?
ENGEL: Use of color? Well, several, but I think Matisse
was very important. I think Paul Klee was very important.
Leger was very important, because he's so clear and clean.
He uses the strong primaries, but always uses them very
elegantly. But of course I must also mention Braque, and
I must also mention Picasso. And I think that would take
care of it.
ZOLOTOW: All Europe. No one on the American scene that
you were interested in?
ENGEL: Oh, the only American scene painter that I was
interested in for color was Albers , Josef Albers--and
Hans Hofmann. Hans Hofmann and Albers were the two that
I would look to. The other person who also interested me
very, very much, and I tried to get some of that stuff into
some of the UPA films, was Stuart Davis. But if you're
talking about mood, then it's something else. [Charles]
Burchfield and [Edward] Hopper--I was very, very keen on
them. But Albers and Hans Hofmann, the use of the wild
colors [by] Hans Hofmann, for me that was very beautiful.
And Stuart Davis, for me, that was very, very important on
the American scene.
ZOLOTOW: Yes, I see the connection.
ENGEL: But, as I say, we just opened a whole new world
then at UPA. The way I used color there, which you and I
could never do at Disney. Because there, color was used
simply as an illustration, and not as color which has
something to do with the dramatics. Again, you see, at
Disney, they put the color behind the character instead
of putting the character into the color.
ZOLOTOW: Well, didn't you have problems putting colors on
cells, though? Doesn't color fall off?
ENGEL: No, that's no problem, because you put it on the
cell, at that time, whatever paint was used, and it was
sharp. So it didn't matter what the hell happened after
that. Today with acrylic and stuff, you can put paint on
a cell, and it will stay on it for the next fifty, hundred
years. You can step on it, you can walk on it, you can
bend it, you know. But it didn't matter then. It just had
to last from your desk to the camera. Once it was shot, it
would go into the garbage anyway.
ZOLOTOW: Wasn't there a difference in the pigments between
what the painters were using, the permanent pigments, and
the kind of raw color that you were getting out of cans?
ENGEL: No, because the subtlety was already there, because
the question of what color you put in next to another color,
you know-- But if I wanted to use raw vermilion, which was
in the primaries, you know, if that was the mood of the
film, I used that. But otherwise, no, because it's still
what you put next to another color that makes the damn
thing work, makes it right or makes it wrong.
ZOLOTOW: Was Magoo the big commercial success of UPA?
ENGEL: Magoo kept UPA alive. Magoo was the commercial
success, and kept us alive, and the other stuff that we
did, like the Gerald McBoing Boing, The Jaywalker, Frankie
and Johnny, The Unicorn in the Garden, those were the
offbeats. We had that contract with Columbia [Pictures
Corporation] and Columbia had no choice. They had to take
what we were delivering. But if Columbia ever had an idea
of what they were going to get after the Magoo, we would
never have had the opportunity to do those films, because
they hated every film that we made that was not Magoo .
ZOLOTOW: The Unicorn in the Garden--that animated the
Thurber drawings, didn't it?
ENGEL: Yes, and we kept very strictly to the Thurber.
ZOLOTOW: Was that the first time a thing like that had
ENGEL: Yes, yes. We did Thurber ' s Unicorn in the Garden,
and we did Madeline, which was [Ludwig] Bemelmans ' s
Madeline . And the idea when we used those people was to
give it the lines that they used in their own drawings.
Why destroy their drawing style? The whole idea was to
bring those drawings alive. And they were right, because
Thurber worked with the lines, so again, you were working
with a flat design on a flat background.
ZOLOTOW: I think that really broke open the whole industry.
ENGEL: Also, it broke open from a point of view of anima-
tion, you see, because often people refer to that kind of
animation as limited animation. They always downgrade it,
which I think is very stupid because there's no such a thing
as limited animation-- there ' s such a thing as limited talent,
but not limited animation. They don't understand that the
best performance that you can get from that medium should be
a kind of limited gestures. Because if the animator really
looks for performance to the stage, the gestures there are
truly limited. There isn't a gesture on the stage that is
not truly necessary. In other words, very seldom do you
find a really great stage actor where he would use his hands
or his head or any portion of his body, where he would make
as much movement as the best animator made for Walt Disney.
The animator at Walt Disney, or most of the animators, they
are afraid to stop gesturing, because they are afraid that
the damn character falls apart, because all of a "sudden he
becomes flat. By having the flat character and designing
flat, like we did at UPA, we didn't have to worry about that,
and still our gestures, our "acting technique," was the
closest to what a great actor on the stage would be doing.
ZOLOTOW: Yes, most of the ges tures--like walks — were sort
of parallel to the picture plane at UPA, whereas in Disney —
ENGEL: Well, he was moving all over. He was moving his
body, and the more he moved, the better they felt that they
had accomplished something. Whereas our feeling was that
all that was very unnecessary. They thought they were doing
something that was real lifelike; when in reality they were
not lifelike. They were just something else.
ZOLOTOW: It was a different kind of symbol.
ENGEL: It was something else. But they were not as aware
at Disney of the art of acting, I think, as we were at UPA.
ZOLOTOW: Who was the great animator at UPA?
ENGEL: The great animator at UPA, whom I also think was
the greatest in the business, is Robert Cannon. He was
ZOLOTOW: They used to call him Bo Cannon.
ENGEL: Bobo Cannon, Bobo . He was the one who really added
that refinement to enact a performance of this gesture.
Because there is nothing more minimal. You watch Laurence
Olivier on stage, and it's absolutely magic. The gestures
are minimal. And this is what Bobo Cannon was able to do
on film. Sometimes not even with that kind of thinking, but
he had that instinct, that this was right.
ZOLOTOW: What was his background?
ENGEL: Just a person who grew up in a medium, who wanted to
be an animator. I think, if you go back, he was a tumbler.
So that means he had a beautiful sense of timing, which was
again innate and was part of his body. He was very keen on
movement and very keen on aspects of comedy, but again, in
a very elegant sense, more like Jacques Tati. Tati always
was mimicking people. I had lunch with him once, and he
was mimicking people. He was mimicking at you with a fork
or a knife that he had in his hand, you know, even in the
way he did movements. Bobo Cannon was in the same thing.
ZOLOTOW: Where ' d he learn how to draw?
ENGEL: Bobo? You don't learn it; you just sit at the desk
eight, ten hours a day. None of those guys ever learned to
draw, except that they decided to walk into the damn studio,
and they sat there eight, ten hours a day and knew that's
ZOLOTOW: Did he have any exposure to classical art education?
ENGEL: No, none, none.
ZOLOTOW: Was he interested in painting at all?
ENGEL: None. But I must say about Bobo that [although] he
had none of that, he never fought it; he welcomed and
respected it. This is why he was able to work with me and
with Herb Klynn. He had a simpatico. He was sort of wide
open for that, and it was beautiful. Whereas so many of
these people, they either know it all, or they're against and
afraid of it. Bobo, for example — this is a very strange
texture that this man was wide open for these recommenda-
tions, for these suggestions, and he asked you. And yet he
had none of that background.
TAPE NUMBER: III, SIDE ONE
MAY 19, 1976
ZOLOTOW: We are at Cal Arts, and what we really want to
do, Jules, is find out what you are doing now.
ENGEL: What I am doing now, you want to know? [laughter]
I am now heading the California Institute of the Arts film
graphics-experimentational film department and creating new
talents for the world of films.
ZOLOTOW: Is that an experimentational film department?
ENGEL: It's both. It's called "film graphics dash experi-
mentational," and then animation, because this is all those
levels. In other words, some of the works that come out of
here are purely of an experimental character, whereas some
other stuff, let's say, is more conventional in character.
And then, too, you have the other type of film, which people
relate as film graphics, which would be, let's say, just the
highly designed and very articulated forms and shapes that
people accept as film graphics. Still others in the abstract
experimental vein don't have that quality, because it's,
let's say, more liquid, more organic, more sensuous. It's
purely experimentational, you know.
ZOLOTOW: What relation does this have to the traditional
animation skills which are taught here?
ENGEL: Well, what I am doing here, I'm interested really
in the talent that I would say has more of the character of
the poet, the fellow who is really much more inventive, or
the fellow who wants to go into the scene of film as an
extension, let's say, of a painter who now wants to work in
motion and not a question of aesthetic painting. So the conven-
tional animation here is another department. And although
I have people who work with characters, their approach to
the character animation is where you invent the aspect of
how the character moves. To be more specific, it's movement,
but not from observation. It's movement from a point of
view where you invent, where you create, where you make the
movement function because you're dealing with a drawing,
and not [because you] try to copy or imitate. That is the
only thing that relates to conventional animation in my
ZOLOTOW: Are you getting young people out of the painting
department to work here?
ENGEL: I have some people who come from the painting
department in the school. But then I have people who come
here from other schools, specifically because they want to
work in experimenta tional filmmaking. These are the people
who are art students, and they have a B.F.A. or whatever from
other places. They come here, because they feel that here
they have this total freedom of really working the medium
and not [being] locked into any kind of ideologies or school
ZOLOTOW: Do you regard this as kind of an extension of
ENGEL: Yes, it can be. I think of some of the people,
like Dennis Pies, who's been here, as just that. He was
a painter--he ' s still a painter--he ' s an excellent print-
maker, and he came here because he wanted to get involved
with film, but with his world of painting. And he's done
some beautiful work. Barbara Stutting has done a few
abstract f ilms--again, a painter. Jane Kirkwood has done
a film like that. In fact, the best talents that I have
are really the true artist, who looks to the film as an
extension of the world of art. I make a difference between
the talent that I would call studio-oriented (that's the
conventional type) and then the other who says, "I don't
want to work at the studio. I want to produce my own
world. I want to make new horizons." So that's the other
world. That's the large talent.
ZOLOTOW: You know, you have Bruce Nauman teaching here.
How do your students and your work relate to what's going
on now with video art and what's been called post-object art?
ENGEL: Well, we have video in the school, of course. So,
if a person in here wants to jump around and try something
new, have fun, fall in love with the medium, they see what
happens. And, if a Bruce Nauman is here, or another artist
of that character, what happens is that my students will go
over there. If he had any kind of a rap session, as they
do, or they show their slides, I encourage my talent to
definitely go over there and listen to the man. Just look
and listen. And what you like you take in, and what you
don't like you don't bother with. But the idea here is the
exposure of young talent to all those other people. I mean,
this is the best thing that I can help them--not tell them but
just say, "Go and look, go and listen, and then work with
But the talent is very young; you can't expect a hell
of a lot at this stage. Also I am a firm believer of working
with the talent where the talent is. But the important thing
is exposure to all the arts, both to the large talent in the
painting world or the dance world or the music world and then
play. And then I wait.
ZOLOTOW: What about the relationship to photography? I
notice that your print room has all kinds of photomechanical
means. Are your people here getting into photographic ways
to create new images?
ENGEL: Well, in the sense that, again, the lab is there.
That's where you have to take chances, but why not? I mean,
I like this idea of introducing a talent to another field
and seeing when there is an explosion. Or if there is an
explosion. Or if there is some kind of blooming that will
ZOLOTOW: Yes, because I think of that McLaren thing of the
Pas de Deux. Remember, he did that basically photographi-
cally. And then how did he get that movement? Was that on
an optical printer?
ENGEL: Optical printer, yes.
ZOLOTOW: You have an optical printer here?
ENGEL: We have an optical printer here. And that is really
the heart of the more experimentational filmmaker, because
that's where they can really make magic, go and do all the
impossible things. I mean, you can shoot something in black
and white, and then go on optical printer and put color in
it. You can triple, quadruple an image. You can make fifty
passes on one frame. I mean, that's a magic machine, and
it's a must today for a filmmaker. In fact, the big differ-
ence, I think, today in the talent, when they come into a
place like that, they ask you if you have an optical printer,
they ask you if you have an Oxberry.
Now, years ago, and at the studios, I mean, a guy would
come into a studio, like Hanna-Barbera or Warner's or MGM or
Disney--! mean, for them to even ask if you have an optical
printer, they would kick him out. [laughter] Because even
today, most of those guys, they don't even know what the
hell you're talking about if you talk about optical printer.
ZOLOTOW: Do you feel you're sort of the leading edge, the
cutting edge of the art world, sitting here?
ENGEL: Yes, today, I think in the field of a certain
genre of animated film, yes, we are definitely a force. We
have created films and images and concepts on film that just
did not exist before. So, this place is that. Of course,
I've been very lucky, because I've had some very beautiful
people. When I say "beautiful," I mean talents who've been
coming my way. It's just one of those fortunate things that
always has happened. But we are definitely a force. And
although I use the word animation, I don't like that word.
But at the moment I have no other word. Because "animation"
people always relate to arts, life, and the world.
ZOLOTOW: Why don't we just call it "film art"?
ENGEL: "Film art" would be much better, yes. Because when
you mention that word [animation] , people are so conditioned-
ZOLOTOW: Mickey Mouse.
ENGEL: --to what it was before, that they have no concep-
tion--what is this all about? An interesting situation
today is that the dance is so popular. I think probably
the most inventive art that's happening today is taking
place in the dance world on stage; and people will go to
that and can enjoy this beautiful thing which deals just
with movement. And yet, when you do that on a screen,
people have a problem of going with it. Now, I thing maybe
the word animation-- they look at it as animation, and they
don't quite buy it or enjoy it. You mentioned "film art,"
"art projected," or "projected art" — all these things would
be much more apropos with that aspect of filmmaking that
is happening here and what I am pursuing here.
ZOLOTOW: One of the things that is happening in the world
of so-called fine art is that there's a whole anti-art move-
ment. They're saying the galleries are dead, paintings to
hang on the wall are dead, easel painting is dead. And the
peculiar thing about your activity to me is that you don't
say that the canvas is dead, but you have certainly moved
centuries away from the canvas into this kind of film
activity. And I'm curious--do you think that video, TV, and
the other kind of electronic forms are going to replace
canvases and prints and the still images?
ENGEL: No, I don't think it will replace it. No way. I
think painting is going to be here. And video is going to
be here. And film is going to be here. And sculpture is
going to be here. And it's all going to be here, and they're
just going to work parallel. But not going to replace one
another. If there is a great painter who comes around
tomorrow, or a great sculptor tomorrow, everything is back
as big as it was yesterday. Film is just a child. This
whole medium is just a child, such a bastard medium at the
moment, that it cannot replace the great arts of yesterday
in no way.
ZOLOTOW: I'm not talking about yesterday. I'm talking
about if a vigorous young talent comes along, you know,
will he be drawn to this medium here because it is new,
it is exciting, it's in the twentieth century? And will
he not be drawn to the single image of the canvas? That's
the question. Are you, is this room going to siphon off
the best of the kids, and the weakest of them wind up
ENGEL: Oh, no, no. I mean the good ones will paint pictures.
And the good ones will make films. They're not going to
siphon off to any one avenue. I think what's happening
more and more, that the talents are working in the different
medias. I think that's just going to be much more the scene
than just picking a particular avenue. It's happening now,
and I think it's going to happen more and more, because you
can buy equipment and it's not going to be expensive.
And I think artists are always, no matter how serious
and how big, what a giant they were, they still have to be
in a character where they're playing. You've got to play,
and if you don't play, you're finished, because that's the
name of the game. So they are going to play with the medium
of the canvas. But I don't think that you can walk into a
home where you have kind of a spiritual presence, and you're
just going to have empty walls looking at you. There's
nothing wrong with empty walls, but I mean that's just the
nature of man that he wants to live with things that--not
just a piece of decoration, but that has a life of it's
own. And I think great art has a life of its own, and a
man wants to share this piece of art with himself, you
ZOLOTOW: Yes, I'm glad you're saying that, because for a
long time people have been talking about what one man has
called the industrialization of the mind. I mean, for a
long time, every technological device was considered
automatically a step forward, and apparently you don't
consider film a step forward, you just consider it another--
ENGEL: — another form of expression, another form of art.
And I think that's the most beautiful thing about it, that
you can go back and forth. You go into one room, and you're
looking at great paintings; you go into another room, and
you're looking at great films. Of course, you don't have
any great films to look at as yet, but at some time we will,
because, as I said, the medium is so young. But I don't see
that at all when people say that. I just don't understand
them. Because when I go to Paris, I have to go to the Louvre;
when I am in New York, I go to the Museum of Modern Art and I
go to the Met [ropoli tan Museum of Art]. And I go and see
films. And I go to the galleries and see new painters. I'm
very anxious to see new sculptures or collage or whatever
form. And I am very interested to go to the theater and see
a dancer like Twyla Tharp or Merce Cunningham or Alvin Alley.
ZOLOTOW: That's an extraordinary attitude, and that's why
I'm hoping to have you develop it. Because from what I
have been hearing of--well, I'm looking at Marcel Duchamp,
and of course, he produced almost no art. I mean, he really
was the origin of the anti-art sentiment that motivates a lot
of young artists today. He, in effect, said, "Why do it?
Why make paintings for dealers to sell to rich people, and
so on?" But you don't share that really.
ENGEL: No, I can't share it, because when you do something,
you do it because you have to do it. I mean, you don't tell
a bird to stop singing. You have great stars at the opera
house and you have Stravinsky and you have a Bach and a
Beethoven. I mean, he still keeps on singing, and you keep
on listening to him, and you keep enjoying it. Well, an
artist is in the same position, if he's really something
very special. He has no choice. He will create. He has
to create. I mean, it's part of his chemistry. These are
things that we can't explain, but it goes on all the time.
And the talent that comes around me, I mean, they are coming
around because they are interested in the medium of film.
It doesn't mean that five or ten years from today, they stay
with the medium, because it's possible that they just go
back to painting or sculpture or prefer still the other arts.
ZOLOTOW: You know, one of the things I think it would be
good to have on record is your view of the evolution of Cal
Arts. We did not discuss how this school came about.
ENGEL: Well, I don't know anything except when I first
came here and they said we'd like to talk to you. But I
have no idea how it came about before that. I know that
when the thing was in motion--
ZOLOTOW: Pick it up where you got on board. When was that?
ENGEL: Well, I was on my way to New York. I was going to
move to New York. A dear friend of mine heard about it,
and he said, "We don't want you to leave for New York,
because there is a school that is going to open up, and
maybe they can use you. "
And they had a very dear friend whose name was Anais Nin,
and they called--because Anais Nin evidently knew Herb Blau.
So they told Anais Nin about me, who met me years before,
but I don't think there was any strong remembrance. You know
how sometimes you meet people, and then you're in limbo with
ZOLOTOW: Yes, but you can't forget her once you meet her.
She can forget us. [laughter]
ENGEL: That's right. So, this friend called her, you know,
and the next thing I know I was with her and on my way to
Herb Blau. Then Herb Blau had me over and had a kind of a
rough cross-examination, lasted like three hours. I never
talked three hours in my life before, and he just kept, you
know, talk, pumping me and pumping me. That went on, and
then I met [Robert] Corrigan. Corrigan saw the films,
and Blau saw the films that I had done already. And then
I met Sandy [Alexander] MacKendrick, who was then already
on the board as the dean. And they needed somebody for
this particular department. So, just simple as that, they
liked the material, and the next thing I knew, I was part
of Cal Arts.
ZOLOTOW: You weren't involved in any of the struggles and
ENGEL: Before that, and all that?
ZOLOTOW: Well, even then things got pretty complicated
when Blau got in trouble.
ENGEL: Oh, yes, when Blau and Corrigan-- When we first
opened, naturally, it was very hectic, because the idea
was very big. The concept of what the school was about
was going to be something very spectacular. But a lot of
people that came here really didn't know how to use that
kind of, let's say, freedom that they had. And they just--
I think they just blew their tops. And they almost wrecked
the whole joint.
ZOLOTOW: Tell us about that period. I don't know if any-
body's putting this into the history.
ENGEL: Well, no, it was just what happened. We were up in
Glendale; they rented that old, old school.
ZOLOTOW: Convent, wasn't it?
ENGEL: Convent, some girl's Catholic high school [Villa
Cabrini]. And so we just moved into the rooms. There was
no furniture. You sat on the floors. You sat on boxes.
I think, the largest problem was with the humanities. That's
where the problem came, because I think at that time the idea
was to go out into the street and have some kind of confron-
tation with the local police in Glendale. And then once
that would take place, then everybody would run back to the
school, and then they would have something to talk about.
I'm putting it more in a humorous way, but it turned out
that that kind of activity constantly was that. Because
the dancers were already dancing, the painters were painting,
the filmmakers were already involved making film, but the
humanities had a kind of a problem. Somehow they were so
unstructured, because it's going to be free and you can do
as you damn well please, you can come and go. And the next
thing you know, we had all kinds of problems with the people
in Glendale. And the humanities-- that was the big problem.
They liked that idea of having this--
ZOLOTOW: Okay, obviously you don't want to get into the
nitty-gritty detail. Well, some of it has been written, and
somebody will put it on record, that period, but--
ENGEL: Well, probably a lot of things happened, you see,
but myself, not ever being part of a school structure (I come
here from a professional world), I don't even know, really.
who's doing what to whom, because I don't know the mechanics.
Now, the other people that were in other institutions knew
all the strings. But when you're an outsider, you come into
a place like this, you really don't know.
ZOLOTOW: Yes, it's like my relation to Art Center. I feel
like an outside hired hand.
ENGEL: You don't know. Now, once you're in this world for
some years and you begin to know the principal, the vice-
president, the provost, and how those things, then you begin
to get part of it. Maybe today, I'm much more aware, you
know, what is going on in the place. But then maybe I'm
the kind of person that frankly, I don't give a damn about
those things, because I have my terrain. I'm working, and
I said, "The hell with it. If there are problems like that,
let them solve it. I don't care."
ZOLOTOW: Okay, let's get off the school then. The thing
that we might explore a little more is working both in the
painted canvas and in the film, what are the aesthetic
similarities or differences between the two media?
ENGEL: The similarities? Well, if you're a painter like
I am, naturally, and I'm working in a certain characteristic
of the canvas, which is the hard-edge, geometrical, archi-
tectural, structural thing, naturally, I'm going to take
some of those shapes and ideas and want to put them into
movement. I mean, for me, that is the interesting situation.
to put the character which is on a canvas into motion. For
me, that's very lovely. But then again, I've always been
very involved in the world of dancing. Then the other edge
is that I would like to put the painterly shapes, the
painterly characteristics on, get them into motion, but
also put the dancing world, the dance world, the Martha
Graham world, onto graphics and into motion. So that's the
ZOLOTOW: Well, the Martha Graham world is still concerned
with storytelling, poetic storytelling as well as motion.
Has storytelling been an interest of yours?
ENGEL: Storytelling, when I worked on my films, has never
been. If I worked at the studios, naturally, then it's a
must. It's just part of it, and I participate and do it.
But at the moment I don't quite want to get involved with
storytelling because, frankly, there are so many people
doing that anyway. Everybody's doing that, so that I am
very comfortable letting them all do that, because as I
say, everybody's doing that, everybody's telling stories.
The problem, I think, in this whole film area now — there
are very few people doing these other things where you're
dealing with movement and have all the characteristics of
a painter's approach to movement to the film, or the
painterly approach. I think that you don't find much
around. But storytelling — I think everybody wants to tell
ZOLOTOW: One of the reasons I bring this up is that now,
in the world of paintings, people are asking for a return
to, somebody said, "pre-Courbet painting," painting that
was involved with poetry, social ideas, storytelling. In
fact, I think it was Bill Brice, in an interview in Art News,
that said he felt the time had come for us to pick up previous
things that painting used to be involved with. And painting
was involved with poetry and storytelling, social ideas.
And I'm just wondering whether, sitting here with this medium
which is a natural storyteller but that's been telling jokes
for years--the only story it's ever told has been jokes--do
you feel that when painters move into these concerns, or pick
them up once again, maybe film will be waiting for them, you
know, as a new way to be a Delacroix, or a new way to be--?
ENGEL: Well, from my corner-- [ laughter ] When Bill Brice is
talking, he's talking from his corner. When I'm talking,
I'm talking from my corner. And from my corner I don't see
any such concern. Because you're not going to tell an artist
that we, the public, are ready to reach back to pre-Courbet
or whatever. No way. I think a talent comes, and he comes
in his own time, and he has to work what's right for him.
My feeling is that no such thing will happen. What will
happen, let's say, I don't know, but I cannot see them going
back to anything. I don't think that we're put together
that way. We don't go back to the horse and buggy, we don't
go back to the airplane with a prop, and we don't go back
to fountain pens, the thick, heavy, bulky fountain pens.
I don't see any way to go back to anything. I think Bill
Brice is dreaming, or he would like to have that happen,
but I, from my corner, I can't see that. No way. I think
you come along in your time, and you work as the time is
right for it, but no way that you can go back. I think
that you are always going to have dramatics, you've got
to have dramatics, but the theater is going to take care
of dramatics. I think the film is not quite really put
together for dialogue, because I think what people still
enjoy in film is the feeling of movement. If you start a
film and you're going to have nothing but dialogue going on
up there, you're going to destroy the medium. There's some-
thing about this medium, film, and what people enjoy about
it is the sense of movement. I don't know why people enjoy
that, but they enjoy it. Now you can see film after film
where the beginning is just sheer movement. Nothing happens,
but somebody sits on a bicyle and rides. Another picture
starts with an airplane in the sky, and it's going and going
and going. There's another film I saw recently where it
started with waves, and it just goes and goes and goes, and
then pretty soon somebody comes to the beach. But it's
interesting, all these films starting with just sheer move-
ment. Now, what happens? There's something about that that
people feel right about. It moves, and this is what it's
all about. Good heavy dialogue, and large meanings, T
still prefer on the stage; that's me. I love the stage,
and I love the fact that it happened there. Naturally,
you've got to have dialogue on the stage, and you will
have it. But it will have nothing to do with what took
place yesterday. It will have nothing to do with what the
painters did yesterday, because they were storytelling and
stuff like that. Whatever dialogue is going to happen, it's
going to happen, because it's going to be right--but not
with the view because of what happened yesterday. This is
just from my corner. No way.
ZOLOTOW: Do you see the reintroduction of subject matter in
painting? I mean, look at, well, we've got the photorealists
now, and then we had the pop guys before that, turning their
eyes on parts of the world that painters hadn't looked at
before. Do you see that?
ENGEL: No, I think it's just a moment. I think it seems
like eternity because you're part of it. But if you look
back ten or fifteen or twenty years later, you're going to
see this thing's just like bubbles — it has just disappeared.
I think these are just things that are brought on by galler-
ies and brought on by people because it sells, it makes
news — these are quickies. I don't see anything in them.
But I accept them as part of my time. I accept them as
I accept a headline. And often they are headlines and
nothing else. But you cannot go back. You cannot go back,
to anything. I mean, you can look at it and enjoy it, but
I think these are just moments, of no consequence really.
But I still accept them as part of my life, and I think I
understand, it has to happen. But I think whatever is
going to happen tomorrow, it's not because you're going back
to something yesterday, in other words.
ZOLOTOW: I didn't do justice to that idea if I implied it
was just a retreat. What I was trying to suggest is that
some people in the world of painting feel that certain ideas
that have been not of concern in the last fifty years are
going to become of concern again, the way the Museum of
Modern Art, with its Beaux Arts show, suggested that certain
concerns of Beaux Arts architecture which were thrown out by
Le Corbusier and by the organicists may be reintroduced, but
in a new form. I phrased it badly.
ENGEL: Yes. Okay.
ZOLOTOW: A thing that interests me about your conviction
that films dealing with movement and space and color and
shape are going to be with us in the future--how do you see
them being distributed?
ENGEL: Well, I see them distributed in the museums. In
other words, they will be part of the museum. In other
words, I see [that at] every museum we're going to have a
projection room. Every museum is going to have several
projection rooms. It's going to be just part of your
going to a museum and seeing this projected art. I can
also see them in galleries, where galleries will have
small gadgets where you work with a tape--the material
is going to be on the tape. You put it with this gadget
into this piece of machine, and it comes onto the screen.
It's going to be sold like you sell albums, music, in the
same way. In fact, it probably could go on a record, the
image could go onto the record. You just put it on and
you have a projected image. So I see these things as part
of, well, like you buy a lithograph, or you buy a multiple.
I can see them as people buying it like they buy books, and
they have a library. But people are already beginning to--
oh, it's another reason. People are beginning to buy films.
Now, twenty- five years ago, it was unheard of that a young
student could go out and buy films. Well, damn it, today,
they're buying films. They go out today and buy early
black and white films which cost--
ZOLOTOW: Sixteen [millimeter].
ENGEL: Yes, which cost five, eight dollars, beautiful
things. But they are buying films today. And this is very
new, and that's very interesting. And I've been in a lot
of homes of people who are film buffs, like you have record
buffs, and they have projectors. They are buying projectors.
and they have a screen. A lot of homes now, you know,
they pull a screen down. This is the way, and it's
happening because they are buying films. I was very
surprised when I first began to realize that the young
people are buying films. This never happened before.
My God, I was over at UPA and Disney, nobody had a film.
But today, they have films.
ZOLOTOW: I used to rent films a lot.
ENGEL: Or you rent. But they buy. They buy. They want
to have it. And I think galleries definitely will have
rooms predicated for showing films. And there's no question
that museums--because look at the Los Angeles art museum,
[which] has big film events where they're showing Mervyn
LeRoy and characters like that. I mean, this is just a
natural next step in the world of art, running films.
ZOLOTOW: Well, you know, of course, the big revolution is
going to be cartridge TV. Apparently within two or three
years we're going to see some more signs of that.
ZOLOTOW: So that's what you see. You see the museum
playing a role and the 16 millimeter projector playing
a role, and maybe the 8 millimeter, those cheap little
rear projection units that are developed for 8 millimeter,
and then the video cartridge, and you see that as the natural
ENGEL: Natural distribution of these art films. For art,
ZOLOTOW: Well, do you ever see this integrated in the
feature film as we know it? Do you ever see any of the new
expressive or communicative techniques you have being
swept up by an avant-garde director and integrated into
ENGEL: Well, I think you see maybe little tiny bits, like
2001 [A Space Odyssey] , you know, that one where he goes
through that space area.
ZOLOTOW: Doug Trumball's section, yes, the split scan.
ENGEL: Yes, so you saw a little of it there. And then
you see some very bad thing where this guy did Tommy--
ZOLOTOW: Yes, terrible.
ENGEL: It's terrible, but that's the problem.
ZOLOTOW: No, but I mean do you ever foresee it being done
ENGEL: Oh, yes, oh, yes.
ZOLOTOW: Do you ever foresee artists like your artists here--?
ENGEL: Oh, definitely, it's a must, it's a must. It takes
a little time, but it's a natural thing. It's going to
happen--that ' s tomorrow. Oh, but yes, there's no question
about it, because people are getting so conditioned to all
kinds of imagery. Now you can begin to come in, and it's
no problem for them to participate emotionally [with] what's
on the screen through this imagery. It's going to happen,
it's just a question of somebody has to come along with a
film which has all these characteristics, and people will
love it. The problem is that people who are still running
the film world are still so definitely locked in to what's
ZOLOTOW: — or last month —
ENGEL: — or last month [laughter], that it's hard, it's
hard to break that wall. But, oh, it's on it's way, there's
no question about it.
ZOLOTOW: This is the first time I thought about it,
listening to you here, and it really does seem to me a
ENGEL: Oh, yes, it's all around you, you know. Somebody
just has to have the opportunity to do it. People today
will buy, they'd buy it.
ZOLOTOW: How strong is the cinema deparment here, the live-
action cinema department?
ENGEL: It's very strong. In fact, the cinema department
here is the same as it was when the school first opened.
That's the one department where all five persons — Sandy
MacKendrick, Terry Sanders, Don Levy, Kris Malkiewicz and
ZOLOTOW: Terry Sanders was here?
ENGEL: He's been here from the beginning.
ZOLOTOW: Oh, I didn't know that.
ENGEL: Oh, yes. [All five] have been here from the very
beginning. And it's very strong. It's very powerful.
ZOLOTOW: Well, maybe this new film artist that has the
resources of live action and film art, maybe that new film
artist is going to come out of here.
ENGEL: You hope so. I would like to see it. But, for me,
we have produced some fantastic talent. The new book just
came out from the Whitney Museum [of American Art in New
York], which works with the American Federation of Arts,
called New American Filmmakers, you know, and in that, in
the film-graphic area, Adam Beckett has a full page. Dennis
Pies is in there. Pat O'Neill is in there. And myself, I
am in there. So here is four people from Gal Arts in this
new book called New American Filmmakers. So, I think the
texture is right here, the ambience is right.
ZOLOTOW: So when I asked you whether you felt you were
at the cutting edge, you've got justifiable reason to think
that you are.
ENGEL: It's a shame I didn't bring the book. I just got
it yesterday from the Whitney. But it's very powerful.
You see, that's the difference between USC and UCLA and us.
ZOLOTOW: Okay, let me ask you another funny thing, because
I get a real strong feeling about this film department here.
How do the painting students view this activity in this school?
ENGEL: Well, so far, they've been very keen. They're
very keen, and they applaud us. The accolades are really
plentiful from them. They've really been very good to us.
They appreciate, and they understand. They know that this
is something very important that's been growing here and
happening here. So I really have the backing of other
departments, including the dance school, because I've put
on some film performances for the dancers, to open their
eyes to the mechanics and the possibilities. But the
painters in this school are very keen about us. Really
they--you know, I'm not trying to say something that's not
real or honest, but really they look to this place as some-
thing very, very special.
ZOLOTOW: Well, you know, it's a refreshing thing to hear
because, I don't know, I talk to people and I don't get
this kind of story.
ENGEL: Oh, you mean about this place?
ZOLOTOW: No, about other schools.
ENGEL: Oh, you mean where they knock the other departments
or something like that?
ZOLOTOW: Yes, where there isn't this kind of feeling.
Obviously this is a uniquely motivated and strong department
you guys have, and its connection to the traditional painters
and the traditional printmakers and all that seems to be
pretty exciting and pretty good.
Well, what haven't we covered, Jules?
ENGEL: I don't know. See, I don't come with notes, so--
ZOLOTOW : Well, I think, you know, we have some sense of
where you came from personally, and I think we've covered
the relationship of yourself to the Disney world, and the
relationship of the Disney world to what spun off. It's
really funny, because it's almost duplicated at Cal Arts,
because you've got a Disney department--right?--and you're
like a spin-off department. I think we've covered your
relationship between painting and film art as you see it.
I think we've really covered the story.
TAPE NUMBER: IV, SIDE ONE
DECEMBER 16, 1977
WESCHLER: This is the first tape of the second series with
Jules Engel, and we're interviewing today at the [Charles]
Aidikoff Screening Room in Beverly Hills where we're going
to see some of Jules 's films. Well, Jules, perhaps you can
introduce them yourself.
ENGEL: Yeah. Well, you're going to see about eight
abstract films, and this will be probably a good indication
of where we go from here as far as your questioning me on
my intentions, where I am, where I am going.
The first film is Train Landscape, and it's a paint-
er's approach to filmmaking, to putting painting in motion.
Primarily I'm working here with vertical lines. The reason
for that is because it gives me a kind of effect that is
not known, not discovered. So we're discovering imagery
that comes about when you put images in motion. So the
idea here is to discover, which often is my concept or
approach to filmmaking, where I am at . In as much as I
worked in the major studios where you had so much restric-
tions, you never had any opportunity to have things happen,
I mean, happy accidents or painterly accidents, or even
from the point of view of a sculptor, that accident that I
can find here. [the film starts]
These are straight lines, and you're already beginning
to feel the strobes, something the vertical lines would
give you, strobes. Now, this is total taboo in the stu-
dios, but I'm interested in that aspect of it, because as a
painter I could never get this character on canvas. But
because you're working in time — in other words how long I
hold a straight line on the camera, whether I hold it a
second or two seconds or eight frames or four frames--this
will give me the front strobes. You see a lot of strobes
WESCHLER: And you're using color.
ENGEL: And color also. But very little color here,
because I've always been very interested in strong black
Now you begin to get really the feeling of the strobes
here on the straight lines. And this is a form of discov-
ery that I'm very interested in when I work in film. Very
nice. It's wonderful stuff all through here. It's all
strobes, and it's all geared timing. It's all strobes
— beautiful. Fantastic. [the film concludes]
WESCHLER: I notice that the sound score is by Stan Levine.
Does he develop the score after you've — ?
ENGEL: Yes. I like to finish a film, and then I have some
session with a musician. But I always look forward for him
to surprise me. Just as I'm looking for surprises or
accidents, I also want him to surprise me, because I could
nowhere near have the idea that he as a musician would
have. So I think here he did something very special. As
my art work is still the terrain of a painter, he at the
same time brought me a sound score that had the character
of a poet and not just a sound score that would be some-
thing you could pick up by going to the train stations. So
I leave the musician open; I want to give him all the free-
dom. Again, I hope that he'll surprise me with the kind of
image sounds that I could never in a million years think
WESCHLER: One other question about the general form: Do
you work mathematically at some of the effects that are
created, or are mathematics not at all part of it?
ENGEL: No, I don't work mathematically, because that would
put me in the terrain of a computer animator. No, the
rhythm has to come from me, and it comes from my gut.
Although this is hard-edged stuff that you've been looking
at, I am incredibly influenced by the world of dancing.
That is a major influence apart from painting or being a
sculptor. And so the rhythm that I have is something maybe
from that world that I have experienced. But I do not work
with any kind of formulas. I think that because I'm so
interested in the world of dancing and I had some experi-
ence in it (but not professional or anything), I think I
just have a good sense of rhythm. Often the musicians,
they said that when they start to work, they discovered
there is a natural rhythm they can work to which is there.
But I prefer to create my own rhythm and timing. But
timing is something that — maybe because I have all those
years of experience in the medium — but timing is something
that you either have or you don't have. That is something
you can't develop. You can go to dance school and learn
all the steps, but if you don't have a body rhythm, forget
it, you see. So I'm glad that you asked that question,
because it's been asked before, and some people do look for
formulas. They very specifically ask me how do I struc-
ture, what formula or musical gimmick [do I use]. But I
don't work that way. It's just from the gut.
WESCHLER: One fact question: How long did it take you to
make that particular film?
ENGEL: Oh, I think it took me about three months to do the
art work, and the shooting was maybe, I'd say, about
fourteen to sixteen hours under the animation camera. But
the art work, maybe three months, just to put it together.
WESCHLER: Well, why don't we see the next one?
ENGEL: Okay. The next one is Accident . We go into
entirely different terrain. You'll see an animal running,
and the idea here is to disturb that piece of artwork that
you see there so completely that you almost end up with
something else. Okay. [film starts and concludes]
Now again, you see, if I thought of maybe a sound of
the dog making a panting sound — But then I let Carl Stone,
the musician, I let him come up with something. I like
what he came up with, because the other one would have been
just a natural sound with nowhere the mystery, the magic
that is on the screen. Because the kind of sound he came
up with — this clung-clung — it's like breaking up a piece of
porcelain. That's what I mean: I would like the musician
to surprise me, and he did surprise me.
I wanted to work with this idea of when I have a piece
of art — and also the aspect of a smudge, you know, how when
you smudge something that's a nice texture there. The only
way I could make it really interesting for an onlooker is
to have here a dog that you can relate to. It's a dog that
is running, and it's running well, and this thing happens.
You take him off the paper, bit by bit; and eventually all
I had left there was the smudge or something that I
couldn't quite get off the paper altogether. But at the
same time I have arrived at another image, and arrived at
this other image, again, this form, because I'm working in
time and I'm working in movement. The aspect of the smudge
to me was something that I can always get when I make a
situ drawing; I leave it there, and those are nice
accidents. But here I had to go about it other ways so
that the onlooker will have a kind of sympathy with the
WESCHLER: It's interesting in hearing you talk that when
one sees the title Accident one gets a certain kind of
image, like a traffic accident, but in hearing you talk,
you're also interested in the accidents and things that
happen when you erase and so forth.
ENGEL: That's right, that's what this is all about.
Often, the interpretation is very wrong, because they make
the associations that you said. But actually the accident
was that of using the eraser and having the smudge happen.
So that's a whole different terrain.
WESCHLER: That is a very visceral image to watch hap-
pening, and I think you relate to it on one level almost as
a philosophical concept about mortality or so forth. But
do you try to discourage that kind of interpretation?
ENGEL: Yes, I would, because I had none of that in my
head. No, it was strictly a piece of line drawing, a
pencil line, a dark line on a piece of white paper, and
then you take an eraser and begin to take some of it off,
and then all those wonderful things happen. But to make it
interesting — because you're still dealing with a medium
where you have onlookers and a lot of people — so I had to
give something that they can relate to. If I was doing,
let's say, this strictly for a museum or an exhibit, maybe
I would not use a dog. But I'm still dealing in a terrain
that I want people to get acquainted with; and the only
way, sometimes, you can pull them in is to give them a
little something back that they can get ahold of.
WESCHLER: Well the dog is also an incredibly graceful
creature, this particular dog; it reminds me of some of
your comments about dance.
ENGEL: Yes, that was very important, to have this beau-
tiful piece of rhythm on the screen.
WESCHLER: Did you take a film of a dog.
ENGEL: No, I worked from an [Eadweard] Muybridge book. I
studied the dog there, and I used those movements. But
then I would exaggerate the movement, so that when you see
it here, it's a very beautiful, rhythmic movement; and at
the very end you just have those little black feet.
WESCHLER: It's spectacular how long you have the image of
the dog beyond when it's almost completely smudged. It
continues to be there for the onlooker.
ENGEL: Yes. Actually, when I finished the film I wish now
that I would have gone with him a little longer; just a
little longer. But that's the way things happen.
WESCHLER: Well, what have you got for us next?
ENGEL: Next is Shapes and Gestures. Now, this is a film
where the influence of the dance world is very obvious.
It's pure abstraction, and it's really pure graphic choreo-
graphy. I think the musician again came through here and
did something very, very special, [film starts, runs,
WESCHLER: For people who didn't see that and only heard
the tape, the images are as graceful as the music. The
music seems to fit them perfectly.
ENGEL: [Steve Goldman] did the job. It took him like six
months. I had no idea that it was so long: I thought the
film was much shorter, and I had no idea. But he used
mostly classical instruments, a very young fellow, and I
think he did a beautiful job of scoring it. He doesn't
make it too cute. Sometimes he goes with the rhythm and
sometimes he stays away from it; it's in and out. So,
again, see, I could never have visualized this kind of a
musical score. So that was again one of those wonderful
things that he gave me back something that I hoped he'd do
with the piece. Now, this is pure graphic choreography
where the dance is very obviously influencing me, the
movement and gestures. It's again this pure abstraction
working with the simple lines. I'm very keen on art
working: that it does look like a line, a drawing, it does
look like something that you put on paper, it doesn't look
mechanical, it's not pretty, it's not gimmicky, it's not
clever. It's very simple, and sometimes simplicity is very
difficult for people to accept because they look for
something that's clever.
Now the other thing is, it's interesting for me that
people will go to a dance concert, let's say Merce Cunning-
ham. All he does is walk around the stage, you know, and
he stops and walks around the stage. That's it — no music,
no sound — and people are very comfortable with it. All
they see is pure movement, and nobody's going to try to
say, "What the hell does that mean: a tree walks around?
or a pyramid?" No, it's just a man walks around and
they're comfortable. I think what I'm trying to do here
with these things is to have the same character. In other
words, when you come to see this film, it's more like
seeing a concert, an exhibit, an exhibit-concert, more than
a film. People think of film immediately in certain ways
because they're conditioned. But I think this fits into
the terrain of a concert world.
WESCHLER: Do you find that it's possible to bring this
before dance audiences rather than film audiences? It
seems that most people who see these are people who are
ENGEL: Well, I think this is where I am heading for. I am
heading for that world where I can have a dance audience or
a concert audience to see these things, or a painter. But
that's the world that I'm working in, and this is why.
often for critics or judges, it's very difficult for them
to put themselves into that scene. 'Cause what I should
have rather is a dance critic come and see it. When I run
these things for dancers, the reaction is incredible. At
Cal Arts I often have a program of these films for the
dance school, and it gives a lot of ideas for the dancers.
At the same time, I needle them a little bit — "Look what I
can do that you can't do" — but, I mean, that's just a
friendly suggestion. But that's the terrain where this
film and these ideas function. It's not really for what
you call a film audience; it's something else. It's an
extension of the dance floor; it's an extension of the
music world; it's an extension of the painting and sculp-
ture world. You see, it's all that and it's something of
its own that I am doing. But it still has all those
ingredients. But this is film, this is new, the whole
scene is new. You know, all we can go back to is 1920, to
Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter, and that's all.
WESCHLER: One thing that I just wanted to note in terms of
my own reaction was just the grace. That's the word that I
would use for some of the movements; they were just incred-
ibly graceful. What have you got next?
ENGEL: The next one is called Wet Paint [actually
Landscape] . It's not a flicker film like some people
relate it. It's a color-field painting in time. It's very
important: a color-field painting in time. By that I
mean, if you go into a gallery and let's say the canvases
are red or yellow or blue, you can walk through or you can
stop at your own time; but what I'm doing here, I am doing
that, but I make the time, I allow the time for each
canvas. That gives you a clue. [film starts] Oh wait,
this is a different film. [film concludes]
WESCHLER: So this one was different than we thought.
ENGEL: Yeah, it was my fault. This was Wet Paint and the
interesting thing here is that I asked him [Nikolaj
Bogatirev] not to follow the image too closely. I wanted
him to have the music function with the film but almost as
if it was coexisting. They each work on their terrain, and
they work in themselves; but still they don't get in each
other's way, and they help each other. So that was very
important here, because when you relate this to Shapes and
Gestures here the music was just playing around the place
and yet they worked together. So that is what I asked him
to do, but that was the only thing. Then he looked at the
film, and he was trying to work out a music. After maybe
about fifteen or eighteen or twenty sessions that he was
looking at it — that was like three months later — we said,
"Okay, let's do it." Then we made one take, ran the film,
and he had the continuity. But also here I structured a
very straight line, so there's a structure almost like a
building against a soft, simple image, just dabs of color,
and a lot of texture here. I used a very soft paper
because I wanted the paint to seep through the paper and
maybe end up with something at the bottom, which it did.
So that was, again, the kind of beautiful accidents and
gestures that I look for. I [found them here] by using
another paper where the paint had a chance to go through,
and then I would look back and there it was, you know. It
just happens. But it's good, and it makes this kind of a
thing more human, you know, it has the human quality. You
know man is at work, and it doesn't look like a piece of
WESCHLER: How do you relate it to Shapes and Gestures?
They seem in similar universes.
ENGEL: Yeah, but in Shapes and Gestures, all the shapes
are very hard-edged, cleaner and more geometrical. Whereas
here the shapes are very loose, primarily, and a lot of
shapes just happen because of the character of the paper.
Even his music was then like that: Instead of hitting the
notes or hitting the shapes, it was just sort of playing
around; so it had the same character.
WESCHLER: Which did you do first of those two?
ENGEL: Oh, Shapes and Gestures I did way before this one.
Often, when I do something as structured as Shapes and
Gestures, then I have a desire to do something very loose.
you know, to loosen up. And so this is how this came
The next one is Landscape , and that's the one I
described earlier. [film starts, runs, concludes] Stan
Levine scored that one also.
WESCHLER: Why don't you talk about this? You mentioned
the color-field quality before.
ENGEL: It's a color-field painting in time. That means
that what it does is to give you just so much time on each
color, and by doing that I^ give you the right and not you
giving me your time when you walk through my exhibit and
you just run through or maybe stop for a painting. I did
stop for some paintings — the red and the blue, when I give
you a little more time to watch the color. But even if you
walked through the gallery and saw the exhibit, you would
still never have the interaction with the colors, how the
red came forward an the blue moved backward, which is just
naturally characteristic of these colors. One recedes and
the other goes forward.
WESCHLER: I was thinking: In this particular one, you are
much more interested in optical effects, things that human
beings in their perception would experience about the blues
and the reds and how they bleed together, back and forth
and so forth.
ENGEL: Yes, and that of course just comes about because,
again, you're working with time. That is something that a
painter has to consider, that when you work with film
you're working in time. That's why it's so important, that
word, "in time" — how long it's up on the screen, how short
a time it's up on the screen. But you mentioned [the
optical effect] that happened. That is something that's
almost like a by-product. That other color that sometimes
you see — it's not there, but you see it because —
WESCHLER: Did you do a lot of experimenting yourself to
develop those kinds of effects?
ENGEL: Well, I shot a lot of colors and got some kind of
idea how they're going to interact. Toward the end you saw
there were very soft blues and purples where they just
hardly move, but you saw the change.
WESCHLER: That was with the train whistle at that point.
ENGEL: Yes. Again, it's by shooting some tests and then
putting the whole thing together. It's really like one
large canvas. Again, you need the film, and you need time
to create those secondary effects that a painter cannot get
on a canvas. That's why this whole adventure is so ex-
citing, because there's so much to discover in this medium,
there's so much there that we don't know. The only way is
by sometimes just shooting and seeing what comes back;
then, if you want to, you can make notes, so the next time
you go into it you know what's going to happen. But the
minute you do that, you're already restricting yourself,
and I think we're too early in this terrain to restrict
ourselves to anything like that.
The next one is silent. Now, here is Fragments, just
a pencil line. You have to watch it because sometimes it's
so little. [film starts] The idea of what I'm doing here
is this idea that there is space behind the canvas; I poke
holes into the canvas, and the line disappears and comes
out of the canvas, you see. [film is running] Sometimes I
go off and that's, of course, a surprise, but then other
times-- And you also repeat; you repeat like a musical
theme repeats. Sometimes I'll do something like that,
where I'm going to leave a little dot where he goes in, so
those are with the holes.
WESCHLER: Are the holes consistent on the canvas? Are
there about eight places where they go out, or do they go
ENGEL: Well, they're consistent as far as where I struc-
ture them, you know, the movement. The idea is that there
is space behind the canvas as there is space in front of
it. The movements were working here more in a circle, but
then also now I'm going to bring very straight.
WESCHLER: Straight seems to read as having more velocity.
ENGEL: Yes. [film concludes] I think I'm going to leave
it like that, not have any sound.
WESCHLER: Is that a fairly recent one that you've done?
ENGEL: No, it's about four years ago, one of the earlier
TAPE NUMBER: IV, SIDE TWO
DECEMBER 16, 1977
WESCHLER: You were just talking about Fragments. You were
going to leave it without sound.
ENGEL: Yes, leave it without sound, because I think it's
just an idea of this very delicate pencil line and a piece
of white paper and at the same time working with the idea
of puncturing the canvas with a pencil. Again, as a
painter, I could never really do this kind of thing, but
showing a way that there is space behind, that you can move
into it and almost move into an incredible amount of space
that is just there, and you can make good use of it by
doing just that. There was a painter, a sculptor, [Lucio]
Fontana, Italian painter, who did some wonderful things on
a still plate or a copper plate — he would have holes in
it — and in a sense I've been always very jealous of that.
I wanted to do something like that here, and this was a
perfect approach to that. But I think I'll sometime do the
next step where I'll have the line go into the canvas and
leave a hole there and then see what happens when the whole
canvas is full with these holes, like he did on copper
WESCHLER: The silence in that piece reads like negative
space in a way, so that it fits right in with the white of
ENGEL: Yes, yes.
Now the next one is Rumble. Now here, after these
gentle delicate lines almost, here I go to very heavy,
almost bombastic, kind of like a [Franz] Kline painting.
So much work in this terrain is kind of light, and I wanted
something really heavy and weighty, very much influenced by
the world of dance. Even the title came from West Side
Story — "Rumble" — and the sound took wonderful care of it
(it almost looks, feels like logs rolling). Okay. [film
starts, runs, concludes]
David Shoemaker scored that, and I think, again, he
captured the character of the shapes. He's a very good
musician: they had six hundred applicants at Yale, and
they only took three — he was one of the three that were
accepted. But I think he really got hold of those shapes
and sounds. It's a hard-edged, heavy painting. Yet at the
same time, every once in a while I come from way back and
come forward; so I give you the feeling that, again, there
is space. If I had this on a canvas, it would all be on
the surface. But by having it come from there, small
growing to big, again, I point out the character of space
that the film gives you. As I said before, I wanted to do
something where the shapes would be big and heavy and bold.
Now, interestingly, a man in France asked me, a film
critic, "Why black?" That's a strange question, "Why
black?" "Why not?" I said. "Why not?" But you see how
far these people are removed from that world: he wanted
color. Well, I mean, you have black etchings, you have
woodcuts in black, you have painters — Ad Reinhardt worked
with black. And yet here's a film man who said, "Why
black? It's so heavy," he said. But you see how — Because
people are so conditioned, what film sometimes is, if you
do something like this. And I was quite surprised, because
he was a very bright man, and he was very disturbed. "Why
black?" That's what I wanted to do is to have this kind of
a weight on the screen. The shapes are painterly. They
make good paintings, but I could never have had the
excitement and vitality that I got there. And also
switching from the black background to the white image or
the white background to the black image; and letting the
shape come from the top or sometimes from the bottom and
going from left to right or right to left. So I created a
kind of excitement that I could never, never get on a
canvas. And that, again, is the magic of working in time.
WESCHLER: Are you interested in the room in which the film
is being shown? In this particular film, it completely
lights up the room when it's white, and it makes it dark,
it makes pyramids of light and so forth. Is that inter-
esting to you?
ENGEL: Yes, that's very interesting to me. Of course,
this one lights up the room, almost as if lights were
turned on and off. Also, with this film, you need a large
canvas. The other day I ran the film, and the canvas was
that big, and I had to explain that this is a painting that
needs forty-by-fifty, or fifty-by-fifty. So that is,
again, a very important character of the film, that some-
times I make the size of the screen very important. And
here a very big canvas was important.
WESCHLER: A naive question, as someone who's obviously not
an artist myself: Do you find that when you're working on
this that you are psychologically more on edge or tenser
than when you're working on the very graceful gestural
ENGEL: Oh, yes. When I work on the other one, that's very
soft, very gentle, almost like listening to a piece of
WESCHLER: And you feel that way yourself afterward, after
working that way?
ENGEL: Yes, yes.
WESCHLER: And this one?
ENGEL: This is entirely different. It's a blast, and that
I feel, because this is the only way I can really get the
rhythm into the film.
Now, this was a film where I was asked by a very
competent filmmaker what rhythm structure I used. And
again you see people are so locked in to that aspect of it.
But I cannot do that because my feeling — The way I feel
about the rhythm structure is, I think it's so right, that
it's all there. Now, he wanted me to give him a formula.
Well, I don't work with formulas, you see. You make a
gesture and the people say, "Oh, you made a gesture. What
does it mean? Is it a tree?" "No," I say, "it's not a
tree, it's just my hand." You see, it's as simple as that.
Maybe it's not that simple to other persons, but for me
it's just that simple. But the film always has a totality:
it has a beginning, it has a middle, it builds, and then I
like sometimes the surprise ending, which is very impor-
tant, also it's very theatrical. But the exit and entrance
is very important for me on the stage, and it's very
important for me on the film — how you start out, how you
WESCHLER: Continuing my question of a moment ago: You say
you don't work with formulas. To what extent do you work
with feelings? Is that a proper category to attribute to
your pictures, that some of them feel?
ENGEL: It ' s a total feeling, yes. And naturally I have
some years of experience, so I know where I want to go off.
where I want to come into the scene. Well, that is the
experience I have. But I think it's also a natural rhythm.
WESCHLER: The response is one of feeling, and that's
WESCHLER: You're not just concerned about the perceptual
ENGEL: No. For instance, I talk to my students and I try
to tell them, "If you come in from the right" — And they'll
come in from the left and they'll come in from the bottom.
It's very difficult to convey this aspect of movement in
the right directions. They say, "What do you mean?" It
isn't that I mean anything. That's natural. It's very
interesting to convey these ideas to a beginner. But I
have to work through feelings. Plus, don't forget the
experience that I have viewing other work, the world of
ballet, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, the Ballet Russe.
I mean, naturally, you gain something from that world. But
then you want to connect it to something that's your own.
But I just assume that I have all that in me, and so it
The next film is a computer film, Swan. I have a
piece of music [by Camille Saint-Saens] which is very
popular in the dance world — [Anna] Pavlova danced that — and
I've always wanted to do something with this music. And I
had this piece of computer film for ten years before I
decided what I wanted to do with it. In other words, I
have done a lot of editing here. But what I'm doing here,
I want to put an end to those computer films which are
beginning to look like TV titles, where they are so cute
and so clever that I think they are a total bore. What I
want to do with the computer is to cut that concept into
ribbons. Because in the painting world, those things would
never exist; they would look banal. They would make
magazine covers, but they would never exist as a piece of
art. So what you see here is none of that. [film starts,
See, this is computer material. Naturally, I always
wanted to do something with that piece of music. I had a
lot of material for about ten years, and about a year ago
or so all of a sudden I said "I know what I'll do with
this." So I edit and cut. Almost out of this idea of — It
hasn't been around much, hasn't been out too much. But
every time I see a computer film, everything is the same on
both sides, they're always glued together, and God, that
stuff just drives me crazy, because it's getting to look so
much like television titles. That's the danger with
computer film and people doing it. They begin to look like
industrial graphics. At the Academy last year, I was
sitting next to this man; we were looking at some feature
pictures, and some computer stuff came on as the beginning.
He said to me, "Oh, a television title." You see how
horrible that is. It was a feature, had nothing to do with
television, but he already equated this kind of texture
with television titles and television commercials. You see
this damned thing all over in television, and they're
killing this. What I have here is irregular lines, just
moving. There is no such a feeling that they're all the
same on both sides. A lot of these people when they work
with computers, they work with engineers who have abso-
lutely no idea what the hell they're doing. Most of these
people are not artists, they're really not. They just get
on this gadget — and naturally when you have a circle here
and a circle there and they're working at the same time,
they're so taken, so seduced with that stuff. It's so cute
and it's lovely. But as a piece of art when you look at
that stuff — well, it's very bad stuff, it's incredibly bad
stuff, very banal. So this, I almost did it out of anger.
Because it has some lovely stuff here: nothing works
cutely, it's never cute, the image.
WESCHLER: Do you want to do more with computers? Is
computer technology developing so that there are more
interesting things to do?
ENGEL: I will do something. I have something else I'm
working on which is a lot nicer [Three Arctic Flowers] . It
will be very popular, I think. I think I have a lovely
piano score behind it, and it's not too long. I think
it'll work. But I like this because of the lack of regular
lines. It's an irregular line which very seldom you see.
When you go to see a computer, just watch: It's always the
same at the bottom and the [top], at the corners; and it's
just a very banal piece of design.
WESCHLER: I want to ask you about the line in this movie:
it's beads of light. Is that because the computer was only
capable of that, or did you choose to have the beads?
ENGEL: No, it's only doing that. And of course the blue
that comes out of that, that just happens, but it's very
nice. So, again, I grabbed that because, as I say, it is
very nice. This is again that something that happens; and
when I find things like that, I'm very happy with them,
because those are unexpected things. It's all there: It's
like an incredible mine that's full of surprises. Unless
you're aware of that, you almost throw out the surprises;
whereas I don't throw out the surprises because I think
that's a most wonderful thing. This is that constant
search and discovery that I have. See, when a scientist
goes from A to B, that's from A to B. Then the next person
takes the B, and he goes from B to C, and then he goes from
C to D. But there's an incredible progression somehow.
Whereas in art you don't discover things; you don't even
know it's there. It's not like taking Picasso, and then I
go from there to something else. No, you move into the
field, and all of a sudden you discover something. I think
film has that, but a lot of people are afraid of that, they
don't know, and the surprise is something that they think
is a mistake. It's not a mistake — it's there.
WESCHLER: Sure, you realize it's there.
ENGEL: Yes. It's there, yes! So that's the terrain that
I'm very much involved in.
WESCHLER: What is this last thing you're going to show us?
ENGEL: Now, the last thing is my first live-action film
which won the Jean Vigo award, won half a dozen awards. It
was done in 1965. It's called Coaraze. Coaraze is the
name of a French village. This is moving from the world of
animation into the world of live-action. I had a wonderful
time, and also I used a lot of still photography here (some
of it you'll be aware of; some of it, not). But it got a
lot of wonderful presence. It got such a good presence
that none of the art houses would show it. They threw me
out of major studios with this film. Ingmar Bergman saw
the film, and it ran with his film in Paris. Even there
the people complained to the management — the sound was too
this, the editing was too fast. We're talking 1965, of an
art house in Paris, and it raised hell. But it's such a
gentle film. You'll see, it's nothing like it. But I was
able to incorporate a lot of ideas coming in from the
animation field, knowing how to use the animation camera
and still photos, and again, as a painter who sees things
differently. It's a very gentle film. [film starts].
That's the highest award you get in France.
WESCHLER: Prix Jean Vigo.
ENGEL: Yes, and it beat out all the features that year.
[film is running] There's a still. Still. . . still. . .
WESCHLER: Did you take the photographs?
ENGEL: I took all the still shots, set up the camera, and
I directed. These are all still photos put together a
certain way. [film ends]
That was quite a film because it is shot in 35 and 15
with all the stills. But it is incredible that in Paris,
you know — Bergman liked the film, and he wanted to do it
with his feature. Actually the sound on the 35 is much
more brittle at the end, and [the people in the audience]
would complain to the management, they complained about the
editing to the management, too fast and things like that,
and this film never could get a playdate anyplace. It was
in the hand of a distributor in London — couldn't —
But see, coming in from animation and having all that
experience in painting, I was able to see images and shapes
and sizes. Then it's a question of editing, of putting
together the structure and the film in a way that a little
thing like that becomes very potent. A lot of people have
seen this film. But I could never get a job with that, by
the way; I was turned down every place.
ENGEL: Oh yes, because they said, "You're too arty" and
things like that. But this has a lot of wonderful things
in that, you know, and if you're working in a large film,
there's that kind of thinking. There's a lot of things
that have never been touched in live-action when you're
dealing with content, that have never been touched. And
then when you go in with something like that, they say,
"You're too arty," and stuff like that, or "It has good
black and white." Again, I think it's a question of the
eye, how I'm able to see things. Those doors: I would cut
those photos and put the photos together in a way that
works. People don't know, look at it and don't realize
it's stills. They don't even realize that some of those
images were cut down and put together to give you the nice
feeling of panning down the doorways. That man in the
foreground, you know, who was sitting — there's a bench, and
he's at the other end, too. I come up here, and it's the
same man and the same picture, in all three shots.
WESCHLER: Or the shot that suddenly seems like it's a
photograph and then the cat suddenly walks in.
ENGEL: And then the cat walks in. That's a sur-
prise— that's very beautiful, to do those things.
WESCHLER: Are the scenes of children fighting acted for
ENGEL: They were just playing for us. They were just
having a hell of a good time. I mean, that's the biggest
thing to happen in that little place, you know, a couple of
people with cameras.
WESCHLER: Exactly who was it? Was it you and another
ENGEL: Oh, I had a camera. I had a 35 Eclair cameraman.
In fact the whole fight was a hand-held 35. I'm not a
photographer really. I don't know a damned thing about
cameras, but they rented a camera for me. But, you know,
if you have an eye, you see things; it doesn't matter,
because you know when you look through, that the
composition is all there. If you spend your life composing
pictures, well, it's a hell of a lot easier to pick up a
camera and all, because it's all there and it's just a
question of getting those images. And then, of course, the
next important thing is when you get into editing, how you
juxtapose images. And again, that's timing, it's rhythm.
It's something that you can learn, you can acquire; but
some of it, you have to come with something to do that.
This was, as I say, the first time I shot anything in live-
WESCHLER: To what extent was this a purely formal exer-
cise, and to what extent was it trying to say something
about that specific town of Coaraze?
ENGEL: No, it was commissioned by the mayor of the vil-
lage, because this village is very important. All the
poets come there. Once a year, all the poets of Europe
come to this little place Coaraze. He wanted a film to be
done which had a poetic presence, not a documentary, so
also he can show that when the poets come to that place, to
see what a filmmaker will do with that place.
WESCHLER: And how did the mayor feel about the film?
ENGEL: Oh, incredible, because it won the Jean Vigo award.
This picture knocked out every feature that year; no
feature film got the Vigo award. It got the Arnaud, got,
oh, about a half a dozen important French awards. So
naturally it was a beautiful thing. But the important
thing was that the filmmaker would come and find in this
place what you poets find in the place.
WESCHLER: Did you ever show it to the people in the
village and get their reaction?
ENGEL: Oh no, I had to leave. He did, and of course that
was a big thing. I mean, of them even being photographed,
it was a big thing. So he ended up with something very
special, very special, and very, very happy. But the
interesting thing about this film, it's unique. I think
the film is unique, especially to us. But everyplace I
went in this country they wouldn't even show it. They
wouldn't even show this film in this country in art houses,
'cause they said, "Aw, that's for beatniks."
WESCHLER: Really? [laughter]
ENGEL: Yeah. Incredible, isn't it?
WESCHLER: Is it being able to get shown more now?
ENGEL: No. I show it once in a while when I have a
retrospective or things like that. Otherwise, I haven't.
WESCHLER: It doesn't go out on its own.
ENGEL: No. And yet, you know, the reaction to that has
been beautiful from people. But, you take that into a
commercial house which is an art house, and — So today I
won't even try it. But I show it once in a while. So
that's the only exposure that this might ever get. But,
you see, if you work in terrain where you work with
graphics, where you really have to sweat for composition
and shapes, then when you pick up a live-action camera, you
should be able to do wonderful things.
WESCHLER: Just naturally.
ENGEL: Because it's there: you don't have to draw, you
don't have to design it. So it's a nice thing, especially
on something like that where tons of textures, the
beautiful textures, the old people and the young kids, the
other people who were there, some are working, you know.
The whole place is about that big. I had to do a tremen-
dous amount of improvising with those steps, because that's
what you get out of the place when you get there. You're
always walking up steps, between walls that are this wide.
So I wanted to capture that, and the only way I could was
to take the steps and put them together, you know — maybe
they're that long — put it under the animation camera and
shoot it with the animation camera with the movements, you
see. But I had to improvise all those ideas because the
whole place was nothing. There was very little to it,
except two old people who were very interesting. But I
don't like to do that with old people, because I don't like
to trespass on their property, which is their body. I
don't like to do that. But just a couple of shots, the
hands. But I resent it when people make pictures going
into old people's homes and stuff like that. I resent
that: they have no right to do that, just because they're
old and they don't know what to say about it. I think it's
nuts. That's a personal opinion, I don't think it's fair
to trespass like that. But just a few shots.
WESCHLER: Well, I think that does it for today. We'll
talk some more about your films when we talk to you next
ENGEL: Yes, but I think now you have something to go with
TAPE NUMBER: V, SIDE ONE
DECEMBER 22, 1977
WESCHLER: Jules, we said we'd talk today about Oskar
Fischinger. On your previous interview, you mentioned
some of your work at Disney, but today you might talk
specifically about your relationship with Oskar Fischinger.
ENGEL: Well, it was an interesting situation working at
Disney. Especially lately when I hear people talk about
their experiences, people who've been there thirty or
forty years — I was only there three and a half-- But they
generally have the comment that you cannot work at the
Disney studio without it influencing your life or leaving
some imprint on your life. I used that comment recently
at an Annie banquet where we honor the best talents in
animation, and I did say that for me it was the same thing--
it did touch my life. And that incident was meeting Oskar
Fischinger at the Disney studio. At that time I was already
beginning to do very small, pure abstract paintings,
nonobjective paintings — it would classify today as a hard-
edge, geometrical painting. But because of the circum-
stances at the place, I had to hide the material, because
there was absolutely no simpatico at the Disney studio for
such art. And then I heard that Oskar Fischinger was
working there on Fantasia, he was working on the Bach
Toccata and Fugue. I heard about him from reputation. So
we met, and for the first time I had found somebody at
the Disney studio that was simpatico to my work.
WESCHLER: How did you meet? Can you describe it?
ENGEL: I met him during a lunch session in the foyer at
the Disney studio. I knew what he looked like, and I
just walked up to him and introduced myself. He was a
chubby--almost, not quite, not as heavy, but almost a
little bit like an [Alfred] Hitchcock type of a body, a
pink and white face, totally bald — a shiny, pink, bald
head and a tiny nose--and always wore a black suit or a
dark blue-black shirt, and always wore a hat, a black hat.
It sounds ominous now, I guess, but it wasn't ominous,
because his whole appearance was always very casual, and
it was almost a natural kind of presence. What struck
me immediately about Oskar was that he was very gentle,
very gentle in his way of speaking. And a little confused--
because I think of the environment that he was in at Disney.
In fact, I always remember him saying, "This is a strange
place; there are no artists in this studio, only cartoonists."
That was, of course, the problem, that he had no relation
with anyone because they didn't understand him and he
disliked their cute and very banal approach to graphics
WESCHLER: How actually did they feel about him? Did they
think he was a quack off in his corner, or--?
ENGEL: I think, if I would sum up the environment, they
would think he was a quack or a weirdy or something very
strange. I'll explain it in a little more detail when it
comes to me, because then I think I can make more of a
point. But the problem, of course, also was that Oskar
had a very difficult time with the language at that time,
a very difficult time. The man who was the head of the
department, or let's say that section of Fantasia, the
Bach Toccata and Fugue, was a Japanese man; and although
he spoke well, I think that was a little with the language.
And Oskar had a total problem. Also, Oskar ' s concepts and
ideas were so far out from their ideas that there was
absolutely no relationship, no simpatico at all for him.
So after so many months--! think he stayed there six months--
he came to me and quit. He told me he will leave the place
because he just doesn't find anything to his liking. But,
of course, he did not find the place artistically stimulating,
there's nothing of that sort in the environment. But
to me he was very nice, very good. He looked at my work,
he encouraged me. In fact, he was the first person who
had seen anything of mine and had a good word to say,
almost to the point where he introduced me to a very important
dealer from Europe whose name was Mirendorf . Mirendorf
was very important, almost in the history of this country,
because he brought Braque, Picasso, and Klee material over
for the first time, really, in volume to New York. So
Oskar knew that Mirendorf was coming out to Los Angeles,
and he immediately told me he'd pick me up. So I met
Mirendorf, and I showed him my early work. What stays
with me very specifically, because I had — these were small
paintings about eight by ten by twelve — and on one I used
air brushes. I remember Mirendorf was very taken with
that texture quality of the airbrush. I at the same time
was very surprised, almost to the point of being unpleasant,
because everybody at the Disney studio was using airbrush
for backgrounds on Fantasia. I thought it was incredibly
commercial and phony and all that, but here was Mirendorf,
who evidently had never seen texture of airbrush on painting,
and he was taken with me. He remarked how interesting and
unique, and of course I couldn't understand, because I
disliked the airbrush (I only used it more to fill up the
space, you know) . But the point is that that was Oskar,
you see. He did help, he gave a hand immediately because
he was so interested in that terrain of art.
The other friend of Oskar, and also the right arm of
Mirendorf, was Galka Scheyer. Now Galka Scheyer gave
that collection of Klee and some Picasso and some Braques
to the Pasadena Museum. Galka Scheyer then stayed out here
in California; I don't know, really, her activities, but
at least she felt this was like a new world for that.
Because there was nothing like that, around here. Now
remember, we're talking around 1940 to 1941. So Oskar and
myself, we became very good friends, and we visited galleries
together. And, oh, then I also had an exhibit, we had a
three-man exhibit, Oskar Fischinger, myself, and Herb
Klynn at the Clara Grossman Gallery on Hollywood Boulevard
right across from the Egyptian movie house. It was a tiny
little place in the back there, and that was Clara Grossman,
the first really true avant-garde kind of a gallery.
WESCHLER: Who was she?
ENGEL: Clara Grossman owned the gallery; she ran the
gallery; that was her gallery.
WESCHLER: Do you know anything about her?
ENGEL: She was there for years, and she'd run films. She
had films showing in the evenings of very avant-garde
filmmaking, and she had everything that you'd consider today
new, in the world of painting, in the world of filmmaking.
That was a kind of a hub. Imagine that: on Hollywood
Boulevard, across from the Egyptian.
WESCHLER: Was Clara Grossman independently wealthy?
ENGEL: I don't know if she was independently wealthy. I
don't think she was independently wealthy, because I think
she also lived in a portion of the gallery somewhere. I
think she had to go somewhere to take baths. There was no
bathroom there, you know. I ran into her lately — I think
four or five years ago — I ran into her in New York; she
was well. But she would be very important if ever it comes
to dig really in depth into Los Angeles art. Because she
was on the scene and showed everything that was new in art
work. So that's where Fischinger, myself and Herb Klynn
had a three-man exhibit.
After that I was with Oskar a great deal, and I used
to go over to his house. I could never understand how he
could work with about four flaming redheads crawling all
over the place, over him, under him, on the table — and
there was Oskar just sitting around and doing his work or
talking to me. Nothing got to him. I was nervous and
fidgety, but it didn't bother Oskar: he just went on as if
there was nothing happening. And at that time he was showing
me all kinds of ideas — two paintings, for instance, with a
point, a circle on the one, a circle on the other, and if
you stood in the middle of the painting back about fifteen
or twenty feet, then the images would merge into one image.
Oskar was an incredible innovator of that world, but he
never flaunted his knowledge; he almost kept it back,
unless he knew you well and knew that you were on the same
world of painting that he was involved in.
WESCHLER: During this period, was he mainly doing painting
rather than film?
ENGEL: At that time he was still working on film, but at
the same time he was now getting into painting. In fact,
I would say he's one of the few filmmakers where things
went in the reverse. Generally it is a painter who turns
into a filmmaker, when you look at [Norman] McLaren, Jordan
Belson, Robert Breer or myself who are coming from the
world of painters into film. With Oskar Fischinger, it was
in reverse: he became a painter, and I would say the last
ten years of his life or so, he did nothing but painting.
WESCHLER: VJas that out of despair about filmmaking and how
he couldn't get his films shown?
ENGEL: I think it probably was out of despair, because
I have a feeling that Oskar was in the wrong environment.
I think Los Angeles was very wrong for Oskar. He came
because Paramount [studios] brought him; Orson Welles had
contact with him. But I think Oskar should have been in
New York, because he would have been appreciated, and I
think a lot of good things would have happened. So out of
despair, I think, he became a painter. But he would have
become a painter anyway, because he loved painting, and I
really think he did very fine work. I think he was really
one of the early and the first optical painters, although
not specifically that he wanted to do optical printing, but
some of it would fall into that category, and he did it
quite early. I would say maybe the work was a little uneven,
but he was innovative enough, still, that he was there, he
was there very, very early. So he became a painter, and
that is the way Oskar ' s life came to an end. But I also
feel that he almost died with a broken heart, because of the
loneliness that this city never recognized [him] or never
gave him any accolades. In fact, in the last five or eight
years, Oskar is really coming into his own, world wide; they
have big exhibits of his films and of his art all over the
world, and Los Angeles still hasn't given this man a truly
first-class exhibit, both of painting and of his films.
WESCHLER: Isn't that unusual, because L.A. has begun to
have more interest in art, in other areas, and in animation
also, at Cal Arts, for example?
ENGEL : Yes, but you have to think about in the fifties.
There wasn't much in this city that was really much simpatico
with that kind of work. Okay, you did it, like he did it,
but there was no audience, and he was still looked on as a
weirdy. If he walked into any of the animation studios,
they would have absolutely no use for this man's talent.
And so you have to tie him up with something what's happening
today, you know, when a painter makes films, a filmmaker
paints, and the whole scene is different. But we're back
twenty years, and nothing, nothing happened then.
WESCHLER: Do you think he will be rediscovered in Los Angeles,
in the near future?
ENGEL: Well, I think Los Angeles should do something for
him. Now, I understand Filmex 78 will have a show. But
I remember I tried very hard at some of the museums — I'm
going back again fifteen years when I was promoting for him
for an exhibit and film showing — and I couldn't get to first
base anyplace in this city, just couldn't do a damn thing for
WESCHLER: Was animation looked down upon by museums at
that time? Was that a problem also, that it fell between
and betwixt art and film?
ENGEL: Yeah, I think animation was looked down on as a
medium of expression. But of course here we're dealing with
abstract film which, even animated or not animated, is
still an extension of painting. We're dealing with a painting
in motion. I think today it's a little more understood
than at that time, you see.
But to go back to Disney, for a moment, and explain the
situation why Oskar had such a difficult time at Disney,
because I had the same problem at that time. I mean the
word abstract was a word I couldn't use in a story session.
Often my work was hidden before they came into the
room, because the way I used color and figures was not
really a conventional approach. So this is the only way I
can tell you what the environment was at the place. And
that environment really hasn't changed. It's the same
today. It's the same in all the studios. You'll probably
find one or two maybe in each studio that has a different
head; but most of the talent there is all in the groove
of the Disney approach, or a Donald Duck, or of Road Runner.
That's the terrain of the head.
WESCHLER: Do you think there are more people who are kind
of like you today, in other words, who are interested in
abstract things but for business reasons have to keep it to
themselves while they're working in those studios? Or do
you think it really is a case where the animators and the
studios just don't relate to--?
ENGEL: No, it's nothing to do with business, because
if you do this work, you do it for yourself, on your own
time. But animators, I would say about 99^5 per cent
absolutely have no use for anything except what happens in
a strictly animated cartoon. They have no eye or desire
to experience anything else. It was true yesterday, and it
is the same today. They still look at you as a weirdy; the
whole environment is absolutely, totally anti-art.
WESCHLER: Why do you suppose that is? What kind of person
goes into animation that that becomes the case?
ENGEL: Well, sometime back the person who came to that
field was mostly a very, very poor cartoonist, typically
a cartoonist who is just that and doesn't like anything
else. Today you have better talents coming into the field,
much better talents, but they're still a talent who would
prefer calendar art to anything else. And the heads of the
studios are even worse than that. They have absolutely no
use for anything except a very trivial kind of calendar
art. It's the character of these people: they gag people,
they deal with gags. There's nothing wrong with that, because
you could still have another part to you, but they just don't
have it. And it's still the same today.
WESCHLER: Do you think it will change?
ENGEL: Oh, I don't think so. I really don't think so,
because it hasn't changed the last thirty-five years, so
it would have a difficult time. I've met a lot of new
people who are coming into that field, and they haven't
changed. We'll get more into that later.
WESCHLER: Some other questions about Oskar Fischinger:
What became of his paintings after he died?
ENGEL: Oh, his paintings are in the hands of his wife,
Elfriede. Elfriede has all that material. She has a very
large collection of paintings. I would say she has about
a couple of hundred paintings in the house. So it's all
there; it's all there for somebody to discover it.
WESCHLER: Well, maybe somebody reading this will go looking.
ENGEL: Yeah. And it's interesting, because he should be
exhibited. Very few people know about him, and the only
person outside of myself, who has written about Oskar is
his biographer. Dr. Bill Moritz , Almost everything that is
written about Fischinger today is written by Dr. Bill
Moritz. So that's the only outlet that Fischinger has to
this world today, unless maybe a few words from me.
WESCHLER: [laughter] Well, do you have anything else you
want to say about him? Maybe we can go on. We were talking
a minute ago about the people entering animation today.
I wanted to spend some time with you today and talk about
your own activities as teacher and some of your senses
of some of your students. You might first begin by talking
about the world you live in at Cal Arts, what your day-to-day
teaching activity is at Cal Arts.
ENGEL: Well, California Institute of the Arts is a unique
place because it combines all the arts; it combines theater,
dancing, music, filmmaking, design, some terrain of
architectural design; it also includes, of course, photography,
So it combines all the arts, and it functions more as a
large atelier than anything with school. It doesn't relate
to what you call classrooms; it relates only to the activity
of each artist. There are huge rooms where the dancers
are rehearsing, a big stage for the actors performing,
beautiful ateliers for the painters where they are painting,
and very fine equipment for the filmmakers, both the live-
action filmmakers and for animation. For the animation
we have the very best Oxberry camera and an optical printer.
But by having all the arts now for the first time the talent
that comes into animation in my room have a chance to see
all the other arts function. So the exposure is there.
But I do think that today the talent that comes into
animation are much more aware of the arts. Maybe it's just
my area — I don't know if this would be true for the studio
when a fellow walks in there — but in my terrain, when they
come to me, they are very aware of all the other arts.
Now, I'm involved at the school with what I call "film
graphics and experimental animation," but that takes in
everything, and character animation also, but not in a
style of what you call a "Disney approach." Here the
character animator works on a style that he or she devised.
Let's say, it's a more sophisticated approach, more like a
Bengelman or a Steich or the Frenchman like Sine would
work. So the character animation is not the tradition, but
it's completely against tradition. Then I have the others
where you have the painter working in a medium; and now the
work becomes an extension of the painter, because he wants
to work with movement. Then I would have dance students.
Kathy Rose, for instance, was a dance student before, and
her interest came from the dance world. But they're all
interested in film and what they can put on film, but not
in the way that people have been conditioned when you
WESCHLER: Some general questions about the program before
we get into specific students or specific stories: First
of all, just generally, how large is it? Are you the only
professor in it, or are there other professors?
ENGEL: No, in my terrain I am the only one. I do have one
person come in on Mondays for one day [Jack Hannah] . He will
work with the talents that are more apt to be involved
with character animation, again because his background
would help them. But I'm the only one, and I have forty-
five full-time students with me, and my approach is to
work with them as one to one. I don't have classes, but I
do have seven-days-a-week and twenty-f our-hours-a-day open
studio, because the best experience is doing this work.
You can have all the theory, all the logic, all the
dialogue, but if you don't get to that board and you don't
really do it, nothing happens.
I mentioned earlier that the talent today that come
to me are different. I used to refer to the studios as
drawing-board-oriented, but these people are not really
drawing-board-oriented. They come in and they ask you if
you have Oxberry; they ask you if you have an optical
printer. Now, that never happened before. No studio, no
matter who the talent was, no matter how big a talent he is
as an animator, he cannot go in to a camera room and shoot
anything. These people almost start at the other end: They
know the camera inside out and upside down; they know what
it gives them and what they don't have to do because the
camera will do it for them. So the type of talent that comes
in, you see, it's different. Some might never get to the
drawing board because they work under the camera, you see:
Whatever they do, it's under the camera, not necessarily
at the drawing board.
Also, these people are not afraid to say, "I am going
to see Martha Graham tomorrow," or "I'm going to see
Merce Cunningham." They talk about it. Years ago if I
said that I went to see Martha Graham at the studios, they
would have said, "What the hell is that?" So this is a
large change in the character of these talents that I
Also, what's important here, these are not necessarily
the people that fit into small grooves; I know one very
fine talent of mine who said, "I don't want to be known
as an animator; I want to be known as a filmmaker." I
used that word filmmaker some time ago at a studio, and
I remember when I left he asked another animator what Jules
means, what he means by filmmaker. Because, see, I
didn't categorize him as a layout man or animator or
assistant animator or story man — I used the word filmmaker.
That means he does the whole thing. And he didn't know
what it meant, see. So these people want to be known as
And as I say, they're not afraid to go to a dance
concert and talk about it, or to go to an exhibit, or to
go and hear a concert. See, years ago I would have been
called an egghead, a queer, a weirdy, an intellectual snob,
all that sort of thing, if I talked about that. But that's
the change of the young talent today.
WESCHLER: It's also one of the wonderful things about
Cal Arts, that it does give a place where people can be
themselves in a way they couldn't have had a place before.
Why don't you talk about some specifics?
ENGEL: Oh, that's Irene coming down the steps. [tape
recorder turned off]
WESCHLER: Okay. Returning to talking about Cal Arts,
generally, one of the things that's interesting about Cal
Arts in the context of our discussion is that it was in
effect founded by Disney. In particular, I suspect
Disney interests on the board of trustees and so forth
were particularly interested in generating an animation
department that would have fit what they thought was
animation. Have you had static from Disney interests on
the kind of animation that does take place at Cal Arts?
ENGEL: When the Disney [people] put the money up, they
had two men, Robert Corrigan and Herb Blau, and they had the
total rights to choose, pick, and do as they damn well
pleased to put the staff of Cal Arts together. Now, when
I was hired, I was recommended by Anais Nin. In fact,
she took me over to Herb Blau and introduced me to Herb
Blau as a possible talent for the film department. Herb
was very nice, and they saw the films I had; and then
Sandy [Alexander] MacKendrick who was then already there
picked as the dean for the film school saw my film; and
they said, "Okay." What they were looking for at that time
was a person who had a larger experience than just an
animator. My experience was because I came to them as a
painter who had been exhibiting, a sculptor, a printmaker,
a designer, a graphic designer, and I had films both in
live-action and animation, plus all the years of experience
I had at the studios, and also a quality of taste that they
saw in the work. So on that terrain they hired me. Now
the Disney people accepted, but they anticipated an
animation studio that would furnish them with new talents.
However, that was not in my head to do that, nor in the
head of Herb Blau or of Corrigan at that time. So problems
came big and heavy from other talents from the industry who
all of a sudden looked upon us and said, "What the hell is
he doing in a job like that?" And of course then came the
bigger explosion from the Disney studio. I had big meetings
with them: they had me at the other end of the table, and
they were discussing my presence and what I do with the
talent and how I prepare them for the Disney needs.
WESCHLER: Who is the they in this situation?
ENGEL: Well, at one time I had at the table Frank Thomas,
Ward Kimball, Mark Davis, Milt Milcall, Willie Ryderman,
and some people I don't remember, oh, Layat from Story.
The questions came at me like arrows, and I had to answer
them. And then other people — I don't want to mention names--
from the industry in town were almost jealous that I had
that job. But they didn't understand what the thinking
of the school was, the philosophy.
What happened, and what changed the whole situation,
was that after the second year, while the school was in
motion and everything was still rumbling, I was beginning
to produce or get product or films from the talent, from
my talent, that gave us, immediately, international recog-
nition. And by the third year we were sweeping every award
that there was, student awards all over the world. In fact,
I would say that by the end of the year we established the
Cal Arts animation-film graphics department as the most
important new unit that was producing films of this caliber
and of this consequence. When that happened — and it
happened big and fast — well, all of a sudden the Disney
people said, "Well, wait a minute. The only person who's
getting recognition for Cal Arts is Jules Engel!" I mean,
I was all over the paper pages, newspapers, all over. I
was getting Cal Arts incredible presence. No one [else]
was doing that. So that slowed them down, and they came
to a conclusion, finally, which happened two years ago,
that they're going to leave me alone and they're going to
set up a unit — completely separate from Cal Arts practically,
although it's in the building — sponsored by Disney (again,
Disney money aside from the original budget) ; and they
now have what I call a trade school to fit their need,
[phone rings; tape recorder turned off]
WESCHLER: You were just talking about how they have a trade
school of their own now.
ENGEL: I consider it a trade school because there it's
something where they teach the talent-- No, no, I think
this time I'm gonna use the word student. They teach
the student how to do. Now, when you teach a student how
to do things, it becomes a how- to-do school. That also
means that the student never has a chance to reveal him-
self because he's already following in the footsteps of
whatever the father, grandfather, or the grandmother did
well- In other words, they are being fed printed, digested,
worked-over kind of material. But it suits their needs,
and they're happy because now Cal Arts has a place where
they can train for their need. Meanwhile, they give me
complete freedom because my talents are now really known
for this department, and they come in to me from all over
WESCHLER: Do any of the students from the trade school —
what we'll call "the trade school" — migrate over to your
ENGEL: Now, that's very interesting, because that happens.
In fact, this year I think I have five of them coming over
into my program; they're quitting the Disney program. That
only happened to me once, when one of my students — he was
so unhappy with me because he said, "Everybody's an artist
around here and everybody has ideas." It didn't fit his
personality. He was a student: he wanted to be put in
the first or second or third row, and you had to tell him,
"We're going to do this today and we're going to do that
tomorrow." Also, some of these people are so taken with
the environment like a Disney environment or a Warner
Brothers or a Paramount that they want to be part of that
so they can say, "Yeah, I belong." So I had one in eight
years that I actually recommended to move over.
WESCHLER: Do you work in concert with the people in the
trade school? Are you friends with the people who are
teaching there? Or are they completely separate?
ENGEL: As far as myself is concerned, I am friends, we
are friends. But the students there, they really separate
themselves. Also there is this feeling of "They don't
know what the hell we're doing"; and again, "This is art
or something; it doesn't take any talent" — as they would
refer to it. It's again that same head that is in the
studios; they are already what I call anti-art. They're
already that, and they all seem to be cut out of little
square boxes. They almost look like students; they behave
like students. Whereas my talents, they are more individual;
they are more each on his own or her own. They're more
outgoing, and they are more the heads. You see, I have
forty-five students: that's forty-five heads. Each head
is different. The Disney people have fifty of them, but
it's one head, one head, because what you tell this one,
it goes into all the others. I cannot do that, because
my talents wouldn't allow that. Each one is so different
that I have to know each person individually, know where
they're going, where they want to go, know where they're
at. That's another thing: to know where the talent is,
where he's at, and work with that. Don't push him, don't
shove him, but go with that as his or her rhythm will allow.
Because different people have different needs, they have
different rhythms, they have different desires, and you
can't put them in a box. So I gotta know each person from
the very beginning, know what they're doing.
And also I let them play. I think they should play.
Especially if they're gonna be there four years, the first
year I almost let them loose. That is, let's say, there is
basic instruction, but even if a talent doesn't pay attention
to it and wants to do something else, I let him do something
else, because I think that aspect of just playing and
finding out and having fun, having kind of joy, I think
it's very important, it's very healthy. And besides, what's
the rush? I mean, where are you going? Your lifespan
is twenty-five years longer today than it was thirty or
forty years ago, so you're going to get there anyway, you
know. So I believe in this playing and not restricting
WESCHLER: Speaking generally, then what happens after
the first year of playing?
ENGEL: Generally, by that time I also begin to really
see what's in this person, 'cause I have a lot of dialogue
with each person. So then I begin to, let's say, push
a little harder, or now I begin to set up a direction,
because now I'm beginning to find out. But also, it's
possible that after that year that person will say, "It's
not for me," which happens, because a person finds now that
it's much more difficult, it's much more tedious, it takes
a lot more than he realized animation is all about. So,
let the person find out. It's important for me to find out
that this person either means business or after a year he
finds out "It's not for me" — and that's also natural.
I also point this out to them at the beginning: "If you
don't feel like continuing this medium, that's perfectly
all right with me. Don't feel unpleasant about it. Just
let me know when you're ready." But then you have the other
talent who comes in, and he and she just starts from the
first day. Then, of course, you have the painters with
their art background. We have, again, a talk. I might
give them some very basic introduction to animation, very
basic. But then the minute he has that, he already wants
to move. I say, "Move. Move, and when you need help,
WESCHLER: Do you get more rigorous at any point down the
line, the second and third year?
ENGEL: No, no, I never get that way unless I find that
a talent or this person is really just there because he
has no other place to go or he finds it a pleasant environ-
ment. Then I might get very heavy. But I don't find
that, because these people who are coming there, they're
already coming there because they want to do something.
But once the person is on a project, because he or she wants
to do this, then I get a little behind it in a way of,
"Okay, let's do it" — in other words, "let's not stop in
the middle; now we're going to go through with this."
It happened last year with one fellow: he told me at the
end of the year, he says, "Jules, if it wasn't for you, I
would have never finished the project." Because I almost
embarrassed him to the point that he finished the product
more for me than for himself. Now, this is just my way
of doing things .
WESCHLER: How do you embarrass someone?
ENGEL: Well, by, "Ooh, Bob! How are you doing? How are
you doing? Hey, are we going to see anything next week,
huh? We should see something by the week later; oh,
there's no question that we should see something by then.
Okay, next Wednesday? Okay." So comes next Wednesday,
he either comes in or [he says,] "I'm not quite ready but
by Friday I am ready." But by this time I also know his
character, I know his personality, I know that he will work
that way. I don't care how he works, but I want to see
that thing finished. So then he said he was so happy
that he finished this piece, and he knew he finished it
because I would stop him in the hall — never heavy, just
easy, you know, almost jovial. He was happy because he'd
finished the work; he was happy because he finished it. I
think this is the only thing that is important: Don't
let them get into the habit of not finishing, because even
if it's not well done, it's completed — and by completed,
he had to go through certain phases, he learned. So you
learn during the process. It isn't where I would tell
them all about things, how to do this. No, no, you just
go into it and when you get to the point where you don't
know what to do, then you ask. When you ask then, you'll
never forget it, you never forget it, you see.
But again — You see, there is Dennis Pies. Now, he
was a painter, and he did four films in two years, and he
has international reputation. Dennis Pies has international
reputation: he just won first prize at Cing e Kreek; he
is in [Robert Russett and Cecile Starr's] Experimental
Animation, the book. You see, again, I knew him, and I
knew that I don't have to push with Dennis. He would
disappear for a month or six weeks--well, I'd see him in
the halls--but then he'd say, "Jules, I have something to
show you." So he'll show me, we go over that stuff. I
might make recommendation, let's say, it's too long, it's
too short, add to it, go on, build on with this, this is
a good point, make it important, make this the heart of
the film. Then he disappears for another six weeks; and
then he comes back. And I say, "Now let's look at it."
But then I know him: I don't have to worry about him.
I keep an eye on everybody, and I know where they're
at. And I work with them where they're at.
TAPE NUMBER: V, SIDE TWO
DECEMBER 22, 1977
WESCHLER: A couple of questions just generally about the
environment there: Do the students work with each other
ENGEL: The students will work with each other from a point
of view of helping the other one out in a certain area, but
not necessarily where they would be working two or three
on one film. Almost all my talents are one-man/one-film.
But he might need somebody to help him in camera so he
can go maybe a little faster, and then the person will
come in. Let's say he does something on cell work that
needs to be painted; he'll ask people to help. I create
a very good ambience in the room: they are all friends,
they help each other. There is absolutely no competition,
that "I make better films than you do," or "What is this
thing that you're doing, that's weird!" — no such thing.
I make them understand.
WESCHLER: How do you do that? Because that does become
a problem in other schools where students become competitive,
ENGEL: I have absolutely never had that problem, but
never. And this is going into the eighth year. I have now
about forty-five people; and some come in during the year,
so they're new; and they sometimes don't even speak the
language as well as the other because one chap is from
Belgium, and another one from Persia, from Yugoslavia.
But these things I can't really answer. It's just maybe the
way I am put together. But there's absolutely no problem,
no competition, and they're incredibly helpful to each
other. Sometimes a talent is so good, for instance, on
something that's mechanical, or technical, really technical,
a camera. You notice very soon that this person's very
good at that. So I just send Bob to Jane: I say, "Ask
her, 'cause she knows a hell of a lot about this." I make
them know each other; it's very important that they get
to know each other. I would say, "Ask John Armstrong; he's
very good at that stuff." So you see, now this stranger
goes to John Armstrong, and the next thing they're sitting
there talking and they know each other. I make sure that
it's mixed well, and the best way to make them mix well
is by knowing that the other person knows things that
he'll need, and even I would recommend him or her. Now
they depend on each other, immediately.
Also, when dailies come in, I always call in every-
body: "We got a piece of work from Niki Kaftan, dailies;
come and look at it." They come in, look, but I don't ask
for them to be critical. That I don't ask, because if
they want to talk to each other when I'm not there on that
level, it's okay. I don't want it to happen in front of
me, because I don't want to contradict people in the group.
So when I see a piece of new dailies, then I generally say,
"Okay, Niki , you wait." Everybody clears, and now what I
have to say about her film, I'll say it to her, and then
I can be, let's say, as critical as I want to be. But I
would never do that in front of other students, never.
The only thing I do in front of other students is praise
one--that I'll do. But I will never be critical in front
of another student.
WESCHLER: How critical are you directly to a person's
ENGEL: I can be very critical but not to the point where —
In other words, this is a very sensitive area. You have
to be very aware that you have a lot more experience than
this chap has, or this young girl has, a lot more. So it's
very important — for instance, when she or he comes to you
and says, "I have a great idea, it's terrific," and naturally
this idea you've done twenty years ago — it's very important
for you not to say that you did this. That's critical.
Don't say, "I did this twenty years ago," or, "Oh I had
an idea like that but I didn't finish it." No, you say,
"That's great, go ahead."
You also have to stop at a certain phase of being
critical because there's nothing wrong sometimes for a very
young talent to fall down. If she or he insists, I say,
"Okay, you go ahead." Because I'd rather have that person
go through that experience and see it for herself — it's
not working — than have me stopping her and she'll never
know. And that happened many times. Now, I had a fellow
there who was a painter, a very good painter, had a lot of
exhibits, and he did a film. It's a very exquisite film,
incredibly complicated. But there was an area in motion
where two shapes are crisscrossing. He'd already gone into
the work; he didn't check anything out; and it's not really —
it's not good. Okay. Now, I saw the film finished —
months of work. He's very happy about it, very happy
about it. I don't like this part, but if I criticize him
now, [then] I don't understand his feelings, I don't under-
stand his moods, you're creating a generation gap, you see.
No. The film has done extremely well for him. But some
time later he showed that film to somebody, and he came to
me and said, "So-and-so was commenting upon it; gee, that
was a very good comment he made". I said, "Do you want
me to tell you what he said?" He said, yeah. "He said to
you that that particular shape coming over across, that
particular shape is not working." I said to him, "Now listen
to me, if I had told you then, what would you have done?"
He said, "Nothing". Now it was very honest for him to say
that if I'd said to him then, "Don't do that," he would
have still done that, you see. So that's where you have
to understand where you stop being critical. Because if they
were that good, they wouldn't be there. So the mistakes
they make, frankly, they are not even mistakes, it's just
a question of experience. As I said to one fellow, "You
don't make mistakes. Later, when you're professional,
when you're good, then you make mistakes. But now, there
are no mistakes. This is all just trial and error; it's
a process, and you're doing it, and that's no problem.
There's no mistakes".
WESCHLER: When do you think a student — I mean, other
than just say at the end of four years — when does a student
graduate from you? How does a student know he's finished
an education with you?
ENGEL : Well, there are several terrains there. I have
to know whether he wants to get a job in a commercial
studio, okay? If I know that, then I make sure, whatever
he does for himself or herself, that if he walks into a
studio, he can also do, let's say, what an apprentice
would, a beginner, an assistant animator or an in-betweener .
So those qualities this person will know: how to sit at
the desk and start as an apprentice at the studio. So he
has a running start. He also knows camera better than
anybody at the studio where he's gonna work, because he
does all his shooting himself, he does all his negative
cutting, he does A-B roll, he does everything. So he knows
all that. But that doesn't mean you're going to get a
job, because you have to sit at the desk and go through
a certain process which is, let's say, in-betweening, or
assistant animation, or animation, okay? I make sure that
he can sit at the desk and do in-between, or move into
assistant, which happens. They've all been working.
They're doing work right now, commercial jobs on the side.
And that's good. I encourage that. I encourage that a
hundred percent. If you get a job, take it, because if you
do a one-minute spot for a commercial studio and you do
all the work, I consider that as work. Because, that's
what's it's going to be all about, isn't it? So I encourage
all of that. In fact, I call up and get jobs for them.
And then of course you have a few that maybe even that will
be difficult for them; they might know all the techniques,
they know all the mechanics, they can do everything, but
they're still not going to be, really, of large consequence.
Then you have the other half who do not want to go to the
studios; they're not studio-oriented. They are the painters
like the Dennis Pies. Now, there's Kathy Rose, an exquisite,
also internationally known — like Adam Beckett is inter-
nationally known. These people are not student artists.
These are talent today who are changing the terrain. She
did four films in two years.
WESCHLER: Kathy Rose?
ENGEL: Kathy Rose. And again you're dealing with a talent
that's not a studio talent. Yet she works with character.
She puts six fingers on a hand, six! In studios you have
three; she has six fingers. Now, it would have been easier
for me to say to Kathy, "Maybe four; not six." But I don't
do that, because this is the way she does it. She works
as an open end: she starts and then she just moves on.
There's no traditional approach to it, nothing. But in
the process she did pick up all those other things that you
should know about, you see. So again, you're dealing with
this character who is not studio-oriented. She has no
desire to go in a studio--she 'd rather as a secretary —
but she's gonna make her films. Dennis Pies today is
teaching and making films.
WESCHLER: What is Kathy Rose doing?
ENGEL : Kathy Rose is finishing a film where she got an
AFI [American Film Institute] grant of $7,500; Eric Durst
got an AFI grant of $7,500. So these are not studio-
oriented talent. These are almost the cream of talent
because they are bringing new visions to the film medium
as an art form.
So this sort of thing, I got to know from the beginning,
and then I go with them, where they are going. So if I
know it's a studio direction, he wants a job, then I make
sure that he'll know what he has to know to go in there.
But that's why I say it's one-to-one, because this job
doesn't end at five o'clock, you know. It's like a
coach: when you work with a team of athletes, you sit
on the sideline and you sweat, too.
The only thing is that I never touch their work. I
never touch their work. And I don't let them give me any
credit. Now two persons did in eight years: somehow they
didn't hear me. They said, "Special thanks to Jules Engel,"
or, "Mentor, Jules Engel." I don't want them to do that,
and I tell them at the very beginning of the year, because
if the work is that good, they don't need no mentor's
name up there, or anybody's name. It also brings the work
down, you know, because I don't touch their work, I never
touch it. I talk about it, I look at it, I recommend if
they ask, you know, but I never touch anything. And I
don't want them ever to give credit to their instructors
because I think it's not fair. You don't see a painting
of students in a painting school that is signed, "Joe
Doe — thank you, Braque . " [laughter] You don't do that, so
why should a film student give all his credits, like a
kind of film board, with everybody's name on it. It
destroys it; it brings it down. How do I know that this
person made the film? So this is just again one of those
eccentricities of mine.
WESCHLER: Let's talk about some of your students in
specifics. Why don't you tell us stories about some of the
more important students or yours?
ENGEL: Well, Kathy Rose. Kathy Rose came in, and she
came in with a dance background, some live-action film,
but primarily the films she had were predicated on more of a
dance rhythm, and animation is what she wanted to do. She
saw the work of Yoji Kuri, the Japanese animator, and that
became her God. She worked straight ahead, in other words
starting with the drawing and letting it evolve into other
circumstances. i had to be very careful with her, because
there was a lot there as a person, there was a lot there as
an individual, and she had a weird, way-out approach to
drawing. She had nothing to do with a classical approach;
it was very personal, almost grotesque, but right for her.
And it was consistent, it was utterly consistent. So I
let her work, and I came nearer: we talked. At the very
beginning, you see, that person must find confidence in
you, and it's very easy at the beginning for you to destroy
confidence by an attitude of you know everything and they know
from nothing, while you've done everything, you know. And
that's wrong. In fact, I think some of the not- to-do
things are when the teacher would come up and say, "In the
old days we used to do that." That's a horrible thing. Or
he used to say, "When I was your age" or, "I did that
years ago." These are just a few. So anyway I had to
watch her, watch not to approach her on any of these
terrains. And pretty soon she began to listen and maybe
make some small changes. And after five or six months
went by, she said to me one day, "You know, Jules, you did
something that I wouldn't even let my father do, or my
brother." And that was very interesting for her to say
that. She said, "No one is ever able to do that." In other
words, that I make her change just a little bit and go
certain ways which made her work easier without her losing
an ounce of her natural talent. She said that, and I
thought that was very nice for her to say that, because
this is a strong person. Her father is a very fine photo-
grapher in New York and is in all the magazines; and her
brother was teaching at Pratt, animation and things like
that. But again, it's that touch, you know, that you have,
and you know. And she turned into a beautiful filmmaker
with four films, and she has won the Golden Hugo in the
Chicago International. She recently was sole juror of one
of the very big animation festivals. In fact she gave
me a piece of paper here, and I would say that since she
started, today she has won around thirty awards — thirty
awards! And she's already being asked to jury animation
shows. So this is one talent.
And then you have a man like Dennis Pies, who came in
a painter, with very refined work, very refined painting,
very delicate material. I had no idea where he would go,
but all of a sudden he began to show me things, because
his talent to pick up an Oxberry and optical printer was
so fast. He came in from Arizona, and he said to me one
day, "It's marvelous, marvelous, because I see so many
things that I've never seen; I didn't know such things
existed!" Now, see, the exposure is very important for
some of these people to see. And he again won awards
immediately, and he's now teaching somewhere near San
Francisco, experimental animation. So now you have a
combination of a very fine painter, a very fine printmaker
who now is into film, and he's changing, again, the terrain
Another man was Adam Beckett. Now Adam already had
fan clubs two years ago with his films, already had fan
clubs all over. Last couple of years he spent on Star Wars;
he was doing special effects. He was a fanatic--not at
the drawing board but more on the optical printer. The
optical printer became his pencil. And he does things
that are incredible things, what you see on the screen,
what this man does.
WESCHLER: What was he responsible for in Star Wars?
ENGEL: In Star Wars he was hired very early to invent
images or innovative ideas. Now I think they did use some
of it. But he was also very unhappy, on the other hand,
'cause a lot of his image inventions were not used, because
they pulled back a little bit. [George] Lucas pulled back,
and it's silly, because they could have used his stuff and
it would have been even bigger as far as the visual--
WESCHLER: Do you know of any in particular that were left
ENGEL: A lot of explosions and things that he had images
for, and then they went back to regular explosions, you see.
But here is a man who, really, has brought new ideas and
imagery into film; I mean, he just opened up an whole
world of images. He's going to be very interesting to
follow, because he ' s a very complicated human being. He's
very unsettled with himself; he's unsettled of knowing
which way to go: "Should I stay in the commercial, follow
up Star Wars?" The other problem when you get on a picture
like Star Wars and you see a two-hour film and all this
excitement, well, all of a sudden, you with your six or ten
minutes film begin to feel small, insignificant. So now
you want to do something big, and that can be very destructive,
So there is a fight sometimes in a person like this, of
where to go, which way to move, because "I feel small."
I can point out paintings by Vermeer , or Chardin, you know,
I show little things — Look at Goya's etchings, I mean
these are masterpieces, look at Cezanne's! But it's very
difficult for them at this stage to buy that idea that it
doesn't have to be an hour or two-hour film. It's also a
very American experience. In Europe you can do a three-
or four-minute film, and you can be a giant. But, you see,
when you live in Hollywood, you're nothing, you're nothing
unless you make a feature film. I think it gets to some
of these people if they get into that field, if they get
too close to it.
WESCHLER: Do you think that for animators, for young
animators, it would be better to get out of Los Angeles?
ENGEL: Well, I think — See, the point is this, Ren. Kathy
Rose is in New York; Eric Durst was in Boston, is in New
York; Dennis Pies is in San Francisco; Adam Beckett is here.
So I really feel that some of it has to come from you as a
human being. I am there, and I can make recommendations
again. I'll say, "Go to New York." But some of it has to
come from them. You can't be a father. It's very important
when they finish films that they should feel everything in
that film is theirs. They should never feel, no matter
how much you help, they should never feel that you helped
or you did it, never. When that film is finished, they
should have a feeling it was theirs, they did it, so that
then they can break away from you. I make efforts in that
respect that they should not feel that they have to rely
on me or on a teacher.
WESCHLER: But just abstractly, do you think it would be
better for them not to be in Los Angeles, in Hollywood?
ENGEL: I think for some, yes, it would be better. I think
the best environment for them would be New York, where
they have access to the museums and to concerts more
than they have out here, 'cause they need that. I can only
expose them to a certain amount, because the environment
at Cal Arts will expose them to a certain amount, a great
deal of dancing, because it takes place in the hall; and
there are exhibits. Or let's say I might show films of
Leger or Man Ray or Picabia. Before I show the films, I
run color slides of these people. I say, "Here is Leger;
now here is his paintings; now he made the Ballet Mecanique."
I don't do it with a heavy hand. I say, "Let's look at
this stuff." And they look at it. Now, what I'm doing,
I'm putting this in front of them; some will go to the
library and will get a book on Leger, okay? Or the other
day, there was this young girl and her painting was not--
She was very young and there was nothing really gelling. I
said, "Oh, you know, I have an idea: I think you would like
Sonia Delaunay, because I see you have such a wonderful
color terrain, and I think you'll have simpatico with her".
So I go and I check the book out from the library and give
it to her, a big thick book on Sonia Delaunay, and I say,
"Now look at it. There's nothing wrong, you're not copying,
but learn from the masters. If you're gonna learn color, you're
not going to be an interior decorator, you're not going to
do textiles, it's got to come from your gut. So the best
way to learn it is looking at the work of a good colorist;
so that's in a Delaunay, there's Picasso, there's Braque,
there's Bonnard, check these things." See what I'm doing
now, I gently bring this thing. She is working on a thing
and I can see already that there is a better influence, and
it's natural, you know. You're not copying, it's a natural
influence, and that influence is good, and you're going to
come to yours later. So this is the way I bring things
to them, because we don't have a Museum of Modern Art or
a Whitney or a Metropolitan where you could tell them, "Hey,
go over and see the Cezanne show." Wouldn't that be wonderful
to see the Cezanne show? We can't go, you know. So this
is another approach.
WESCHLER: All you have is the library.
I didn't get a sense of Adam Beckett as a student
when you were talking a while ago about him.
ENGEL: Adam Beckett was a very difficult student.
WESCHLER: How so?
ENGEL: Well, in the first place he was six foot three,
weighed, I don't know, 18 0 pounds, had a good body, but
huge, huge, big. I think he was very, let's say, selfish
and not trusting. I think he had the idea of a school
environment, that maybe I was going to come in with heavy
hands. So my big problem was again to make him feel that I
am with him and not against him. So it was so important
at the beginning when he did a lot of to say, "Adam, this
is good, this is good stuff; stay with it; it's good." As
time went on, he relaxed with me and he was more comfortable
in the environment. He's good.
It's interesting, because recently we were on a panel
together. In fact, I recommended for him to be on a panel.
People had to talk about themselves, their background and
all that, and I was the chairman. He never mentioned
that he went to Cal Arts. Now, I'm at the other end of the
table, and I wouldn't mention it either, because I did not
want to embarrass him. See, I was so aware that he did
not say Cal Arts and that's where he made his reputation
from that place. He never said that. I was aware, but I
would not say it, because I realized he doesn't want to be
tied to any place. He's out there, and we'll see where
he goes from now.
But he was one of those talents that was very difficult,
because he had so much going for him, and yet he lacked
a lot of taste, taste-quality. That could come later;
that could happen later. So, you see, I don't want to make
a big deal out of it. But he'll do things. Like he did
this one thing called Flash Flows, which is very good--it's
incredible. It's a piece of pornography, but it's one of
the most well photographed films, incredible imagery that
he evolves. Then he did another one that again he goes
into that terrain. But it's very bad, because the damn
thing is too long and stuff like that. I can tell him,
"Don't do that, it's too goddamn long, it's vulgar." But
I let him go because all these things that are not quite
right now, he'll find out much later. All I would do now
at this stage, I would just disorient our relationship
and create a kind of a wedge. It's very unnecessary to
create that because talent is good, and what's not there
today will be there tomorrow. I only push just so far, and
then I leave it alone, because it's nothing wrong to fall
down. There's nothing wrong with that.
It's silly when a teacher--oh I hate this word,
teacher- -when a mentor begins "Don't do that, it's
wrong." Forget it! Forget it. I mean, you have so much
time to improve and make changes. It's not that important;
the important thing is the process and the important thing
is to see a continuity. Like some of these people, like
Kathy Rose has a film coming back, Dennis Pies has a film
back, Joyce Borenstein was another beautiful talent who
has a film coming back. It means they've done it after
they left; that is a good feeling, that's nice. Because
the others will disappear into the bowels of the industry:
you're never going to hear of them. But at least we were
able to put them on their feet. A lot of them have nice
jobs. A lot of them never thought they could do anything,
but they're working, that's an accomplishment.
WESCHLER: Are there any other particular students who
you'd like to mention? You mentioned Eric Durst?
ENGEL: Eric Durst, I mentioned, and Joyce Borenstein,
who is a beautiful student, a young girl, and oh, Paul
DeMeier from Belgium, who won the Academy Award, the $1,000
grant from the Academy. Mark Kirkland, the year before
won the $1,000 Academy award. Niki Kaftan, a beautiful
talent. Rick Blanchard, a very fine talent who's up in
San Francisco, going to have a show up at Pacific [Film]
Archives. These few at the moment come up.
Oh! John Armstrong. Here is an interesting situation:
John Armstrong comes in with a piece of Barbie doll, a
Barbie doll with a Texas hat on. Well, I accepted him, but
I said, "Jesus, what's going to happen here?" But sometimes
I take these chances. I have to, you know. So he came in
with that. He was a very quiet fellow, and he's working
around, and pretty soon I see him lying, putting paper all
over the floor on one end of the room ('cause I have a
huge room). He's taking paint and squeeqee-ing it onto the
cells like that, and he's doing all kinds of stuff like
that. He did a beautiful film, first film. So I said to
him after a couple of months, I said, "John, I don't
understand you. You came in with a Barbie doll; what are
you doing, Jackson Pollock? How come?" He said, "Jules,
I've never been exposed to anything like this in all my
life." Contemporary art, he's never seen anything, nothing.
The guy is incredible; he's been doing beautiful stuff.
But this new material he's working on, it should be just
magic. He has a wonderful head for technical, for camera,
he knows more about camera than anybody else (again, I
say, "Go to John Armstrong; he can help you") . His simple
answer was, "I have never been exposed to anything like
this." See how important that is, the exposure. So I
took him on with Barbie dolls, and he's turning out to be
something very, very special. This is again that terrain
that you have to sometimes go beyond just what you see in
WESCHLER: How do you accept people or reject them? Do they
apply? How many people apply in ratio to how many are
ENGEL: I don't know. I think I had something like eighty
applying, and I accepted maybe twenty, twenty-five. Now,
it's possible — There was a fellow, Steve Holland, who's
a cartoonist, eighteen years old. He sent his stuff in,
and I didn't like it: there was nothing there. But then
I got a letter from him this long, and he's writing and
drawing cartoons all over the damned place, [claps his
hands] and then he writes another one. I say, if a fellow
wants it that badly, I got to accept him. So I sent a note
to him, you know, and oh God his parents are happy.
He's eighteen years old; he's a cartoonist, literally. He's
a talented cartoonist; it's natural; you can't learn
cartooning; it's either there or it's not there. I'm not
a cartoonist; I couldn't do it. Nice fellow: turned out
to be a beautiful human being, good guy, and he's doing
nice work. He's going to be very good. There's no question
that in the industry he'll be very good. And you see, by
exposing him to all the other things — yet he's working on
his own terrain where I want him to stay — his sensibilities,
his head, everything, is getting better. Whatever he does,
it will be better, because of the exposure. But the
important thing is he's a good person, a lovely person.
We needed a caricature of the president [of the Institute] .
I got him a photo. He did one, and I didn't quite like it;
then he makes another one, no problem. He took it upstairs,
and they saw it upstairs — the president, secretary and all
that — and they didn't like it: it doesn't look like
[Robert] Fitzpatrick. They give him another photo. He
goes down, he does another drawing. This time it was
beautiful. He went back three times, did the whole damn
thing over, and now the portrait drawing and the caricature
was perfect. Now, you see, this is helping him. He didn't
say, "No," or "Don't tell me, this is good." But now
you've helped him, because on several levels it came back
to him. He was able to go back and he changed it every
time. That's very important.
WESCHLER: In general, what are the criteria that you use
in accepting people?
ENGEL: Well, when they apply, if the drawings are there,
that's already it. If they send the film, that's already
it. If it's photograph and I like the photograph — Like
Jody Meier has photographs that she sent, good photographs
that deal with dancers, but a very unique kind of photo-
graphy, not just a photo. I like the quality of the
thinking, so I accept that. If sometimes a person wants
to talk to me, and there's nothing but "I want to do
animation"-- If I talk to that person and it's a question
of the dialogue and I get something from that person, I'll
accept that person.
I accepted Darla Sal, who was twenty-seven years old —
he was already a full doctor and he was a film buff. He
wants to make animated films, but he's already in live-
action: he's gonna do a live-action film which he'll do
at the hospital. He sent in something; it wasn't much, but
I said to myself, he's twenty-seven, he ' s a doctor already;
and I talked to him (he had experience, he went to Yale
drama school or something); so I accepted him. And yet it
isn't a question of drawing, 'cause he doesn't really draw.
But he did a film using a figure out of that white stuff,
white foam, a ball in a womb and a child comes out of that,
begins to walk. You should see that walk, the way it moves,
because he knows the body: it stands up, starts to walk
and becomes a dancer, and then from a dancer he gets older
and older, old age, crumpled, and back into this ball. I'm
telling you, he's never touched a piece of film, he's never
touched anything! If I show it to you, you won't believe
it. Now you see, I say if a person like that wants to do
it, why not? I got a room, I have a big enough room. He's
a doctor, you know; he can pitch in at the school; he
helped kids with their health, you know. He was practically
on call. [laughter] A nice person, Darla Sal. I accepted
So, see, I do that. That's me, you see. Another person
would turn a lot of these people down, and that would be a
mistake, because there's a lot of wonderful things there
which doesn't quite show. 'Cause I had that experience
in the professional field: At UPA, I needed somebody to do
_background, and I hired a girl whose portfolio was nowhere
near as good as a lot of the others. But she had a kind
of a something. She not only became one of the best back-
ground artists: she is today one of the best layout artists,
the best story artists. She's terrific. So, you see,
I didn't hire her on the portfolio, 'cause on the portfolio
I would not hire her. It was simply I'm talking to her
and there's something that takes place,
WESCHLER: One of the common criticisms that's made of
Cal Arts is that it's an elitist school in terms of the
finances and the people who can afford to go there. Are
there scholarships available?
ENGEL: Oh, there are a lot of scholarships, oh yes,
there are scholarships all over. Of course, some of the
people can afford, like they would go to any other school if
they can afford. But there are a lot of scholarships.
WESCHLER: You've never had to reject someone who otherwise
you would have wanted to accept?
ENGEL: No, But it's easier for me. If I see somebody —
About four years ago there was a storyboard I saw, the
cartoony kind; and I saw that the chap was about eighteen
years old. I thought, "Eighteen years old — that's incredible,
this is wonderful stuff!" All the scholarships were gone,
so I saw Bill Lund — I think Bill Lund was the president
then, that was that rough time — I got to him and I told him
that this chap is eighteen years old, that's an incredible
storyboard. He went out, and he got money from a friend of
his or somebody. The fellow came in--now I never met the
guy — turned out to be a black boy, six-foot-two, you know.
And he's working now — I think he's working at Hanna
Barbera [Productions]. But I didn't know who he was, I
got him a scholarship, and so that's it.
I have not had any bad incidents. The only bad
incident is when somebody comes in and really after a year
or so nothing happens, and then they go out with their
portfolio to studios and say, "I'm a Cal Arts student,"
and it's dreadful. I mean, that's the bad part of it, because
it happens, and it can give you a very bad reputation. They
say, "What the hell are they doing?" But luckily I had some
wonderful people going in the same direction a year later,
I mean such talents that they just drooled over them, so
that they realized that this guy was, you know —
WESCHLER: Was the exception.
ENGEL: Was something very, very weird. I'd accepted him,
but after a while I realized that the film that he showed
me was not his, wasn't his film. Because when he had to do
what I call in-betweening, which is the simplest thing, and
I saw the drawings, I said, "No, if he can't do that, then
the film I saw wasn't his." You know, as simple as that.
So that happens.
WESCHLER: One other thing that's been really interesting
to me in terms of just looking at lists of your students
is the number of women.
ENGEL: Oh! That's good; that's a good question.
WESCHLER: Were there many women in animation at first,
and has that changed?
ENGEL: What's happening — that's a good question — what's
happening in animation is that the girls are discovering
animation. Let's say twenty-five years ago, it would have
been impossible to find maybe two girls in the industry.
But they are discovering animation as a medium for themselves.
So when I mention like Kathy Rose and Joyce Borenstein,
Elizabeth Bechtold, right now like Niki Kaftan and Jane
Kirkwood — I'm trying to think of one name that's very
good, she's been working with Bakshi--
WESCHLER: We can fill that in later on.
ENGEL: And Elizabeth — there's another Elizabeth — and
Karen, there's Ellen right now. There are I would say about
a good forty to forty-five percent girls coming in. The
medium is being discovered by them. In other words, all
they need is a little table at home and they can make
films on their own and they don't need anybody to help
them. In fact, one of the best talents today, I think, in
America is Caroline Leaf from Boston; she did three films
at the [National] Film Board [of Canada] ; one is called
The Street, the latest is Kafka's Metamorphosis [of Mr.
Samsa] . I think she's probably the most important talent
in the field of the narrative filmmaking, and the best
credit is what you see up there, these two films, beautiful.
It is something, I think, that they can work at it and walk
away from it. You know, a man has a problem, because a
man's job is almost always in a straight line: You go to
work in the morning, you come home and sit down. But a
woman, you know, is busy; she has the housework, she has
to go out, she has to answer the phone, she has to pick
up the children. You see how many little things she is
involved in; meanwhile, she can sit at the animation
board. But you, as a man, would find it very difficult,
because you're much more oriented to a routine which is
straight. Now, that might be a silly approach, but I
think there's something in it. So that they can work at
home, or anyplace, and don't need a studio. You can have
a little set-up that you can fold like a book, [claps
hands] you can fold it, open it. But also I think they have
more patience, in a way, and they're not so much interested
as I find in getting to studios. It's more as something
that they want to do . It's not always, "I want to be a
big animator." It's something they just want to do. And
they're incredibly dedicated to the medium, to the art.
WESCHLER: You seem to work well with them. You're very
ENGEL: Oh yes, yes, because I think it's very important,
because they bring a whole new terrain or experience into
the medium, it's just another texture, it's another world.
Oh, Brenda Benkes ! I must mention that name, because she's
been working with Bakshi, and she does a lot of — She's a
freelance animator and a beautiful talent, beautiful. But
she works more in the classical approach to animation,
fluid, very fluid movement in her drawings, I was going
to mention it earlier. But this whole new world, the women,
are coming into the medium.
WESCHLER: Are they encountering resistances? Are the
studios still relatively sexist?
ENGEL: I think they still are because this whole industry
is so male-oriented. But then you have Tisa David in New
York who — She did all the animation for John Hubley's films,
so that's a real breakthrough, because she actually did
all the animation back there. I think once they make the
scene — they have to put themselves on the scene maybe a
little more than a man — the studio will hire them. We always
had very good talent in the field, but they were always
either in storyboarding or character designing. So you had
women in that field, but not so much in animation and not
so much as a total filmmaker as they are now turning out
to be total filmmakers. It's interesting, because for the
male members of the industry, sometimes it's very difficult
to take that, because they're still just animators but here's
Kathy Rose, and she's a total filmmaker. She can show you
half a dozen of her films, you know, and there's the whole
damn thing. But I do encourage that aspect of it. Also it
makes it much more interesting, much more interesting.
And this year I have several very strong talents, girls.
But it's a difficult thing. Animation is physically very
difficult if you really have to bear down on it eight to
ten hours a day. It takes a lot out of you physically.
WESCHLER: One last question, because we're coming to the
end of the tape, the end of our session today. We've
talked a lot about you as a teacher: How are you as a
learner from your students? Do you find your students —
ENGEL: Oh, really, I don't see that. The only thing
I see that — I work continuously, as I always do. In other
words, I work on my painting, I do my lithography, and I
work on my films. And if there is an influence — Maybe
there is, maybe I'm not aware. But the important thing is
that I am in motion, and that's very important for them
to see, that you are also a filmmaker.
TAPE NUMBER: VI, SIDE ONE
DECEMBER 30, 1977
WESCHLER: Last week, Jules, you showed me some of your
live-action films, and it was very enjoyable to see them.
I thought today we'd talk a little bit about live-action
films. For starters, you might talk about the chain of
events that led to your doing live-action film at all.
ENGEL: Well, I think it's almost a natural event that
when you work on films like I myself worked on animation,
that somehow, sometime, you will get into live-action.
Not that you were going that way, but I think it's almost
more like as if it's coming your way. And that really
happened in a way, because on one of my trips to New York,
they were thinking, Martha Jackson, who is the owner of
Martha Jackson Gallery — she of course died some years
ago — she had an idea of doing a film on Paul Jenkins.
They just thought that because of my background as a
painter, as an artist, a designer, and my films through
UPA, that they knew of me and that I would be a natural
talent to do something with film that predicated itself
on a painter. So in that sense the event was a natural
continuity, a natural flow. I didn't have to go out of my
way to look for anything. It just came my way. The project
was right because I was dealing with a painter whose work
was in motion while he was working. So it was a natural
texture for me to work with, because I had been working
with movement, so capturing characteristics of a painter
like Paul Jenkins was a very comfortable experience for me.
The important thing for me was that I should not inject
any other image into the film: by that I mean not inject
cross-dissolves or overlaps of imagery, because if I had
done that, I would have then put another image into the
film that the painter had nothing to do with. I would
therefore completely destroy his art, because if I had two
images overlapping and I had long exposures, then I am
bringing in another type of image that he never had on his
canvas. So I had to be very careful. On this, of course,
I'm very keen: I almost take it as a dogmatic approach,
because I have seen many art films of painters where the
filmmaker was putting images into the film that you would
never find on a canvas. So I predicated this film on
straight editing, never mixing anything else into the
content, the image content of this film. But at the same
time and even with the editing, the picture must have a
flow, like his work has a flow. And I think that was done:
the picture has rhythm, it moves, and it captures Jenkins
at work. I was not trying to do a documentary, because
that's not my bag; I'm not made that way. What I wanted to
do here was like a piece of poetry, to just take you near
or in the environment of the painter. If you like it there.
then I would assume that you will, on your own, go out and
seek him out and find out more about him. All I wanted
to do is put his effort, his work, his process, his way in
front of you.
Also, another important aspect here was that the
musician worked very diligently at trying to come up
with sound that would really work with the color. In other
words, he was aware of the yellow, he was aware of the blue,
he was aware of the red and the orange--let ' s say just
these few--and he tried to come up with sound, somehow, to
match it. Now this was his contribution.
WESCHLER: This was Irving Bazilon.
ENGEL: It was Irving Bazilon, a very fine composer who's
done a lot of films and has always been commissioned to
do large works of art music for individual conductors.
He liked the work, and he enjoyed what he was doing. I
gave him a total free range, as I always do for people
who do my music, because I expect them to come back with
something very special that I would nowhere near have the
idea to do. The only thing I asked him to do in the film
was that when Jenkins was on the screen we will not have
any sound. In other words, I wanted the painter to carry
the scene through his personality, through his presence.
And it worked very well. I think it did a good deal for
the film. However, when you saw only the character of the
color or the shapes moving, forming, dissolving, then the
music was very comfortable; and really it's more comfortable
for the viewer. I think an artist really would not need a
sound background, no more than he would need a sound back-
ground when he goes into a gallery. You go into the gallery,
you don't have music. You walk through the gallery, you
stop, you move, you come back to an image. But there's
no music. Yet if you put the same images on the screen,
it's incredible: immediately people want music. It's just
one of those things. But anyway, it worked out well here
with some areas where Jenkins was on the screen that he
would be working without music behind him.
WESCHLER: I'd like to ask you a few specific questions
about this movie, The Ivory Knife. First of all, you
mentioned Martha Jackson; did you know her before this,
or did she seek you out?
ENGEL: No, I really didn't know Martha Jackson before
that. I was recommended to her by a mutual friend. The
relationship was a very good one; she didn't get in my
way; and when she did, at the very tail end of the film,
I was able to convince her that the film was working as
it is. So the relationship was a very good one.
WESCHLER: What was she like?
ENGEL: Oh, Martha was a very bright, brilliant person who
loved art. She lived art, and she had a lot of ideas. Even
the idea of doing a film on a painter at that time--I'm
talking about '65, '64--was quite unique because she was
thinking of using the film and then sending the film to
countries where Paul Jenkins could have no exhibit but could
have a display of his work through the film. This was her
idea. So she was on the threshold of something very
important, and this was the kind of head that Martha had.
But a person who really loved art; that was her total life.
WESPHLER: Can you talk a little about the actual mechanics
of filming a film with Paul Jenkins, what he was like?
ENGEL: Paul was very comfortable during the filming because
he had quite an image of himself, that he's a rather
attractive man, and I think the whole idea for him was a
very pleasurable one. And when he saw himself on the screen,
of course, he looked well. He had almost like a Christ
figure, and he was very comfortable to work with, comfortable
in front of a camera. I tried not to have too much of
him; I was more interested often in the way he worked
his hands. There's a shot at the very beginning of a
large painting where two yellow stripes come down and you
see his hands and they're working. I was more interested
in that aspect of it, really, than him as a painter, because
this sword has two edges. In other words, I could like his
work and I could not like his work, but the experience of
doing a film with somebody like him, because the way he
works is an interesting one. In total it was a good
The only problem, really, if we're talking personalities
was really Bazilon. Bazilon was a problem because, coming
from Los Angeles — Naturally, he tagged me immediately as
a Hollywood character, and this had to be straightened
out. He had a couple of unpleasant phrases about that, you
know, throwing at me before we started. But once the film
started, Bazilon as a personality was then very beautiful.
He worked like a dog, and he was then really a beautiful
talent, once he got over that idea that I'm Hollywood and
he's New York. Frankly, if I have anything unpleasant to
say about this man, he was more Hollywood than some of what
we call "old-timers". He really was the Hollywood type.
WESCHLER: How so?
ENGEL: Well, because of his whole attitude, the way he
talked. Somehow, although he was a younger man, still he
had what I call the Hollywood-of-Yesterday in attitude
about a great many things. In other words, a guy who knows
everything: you can't tell him anything, an incredible ego
who would love to talk about himself twenty-four hours a
day. This kind of a heavy, driving ego, you know, which is
not around here as much as it used to be. So he would really
strike me more as a Hollywood type.
WESCHLER: Was Jenkins a talkative type?
ENGEL: Jenkins is not a talkative type; he's rather quiet,
very slow. He's very deliberate in his speech, and he's
very much in the terrain of a zen approach of painting and
thinking. That is really his philosophy.
WESCHLER: It strikes me that his painting seems to be a
very private kind of activity and that it would have been
very difficult to do it in front of cameras with other
people in the room. Did that seem to be a problem?
ENGEL: Well, that was never a problem for him because
he's quite a bit of — He's a ham. He also wrote a play at
that time, and so he was very keen of the world of the
theater. He was very aware because he was functioning in
the theater with a play. In fact, at that time I was the
only one that he even told about the play that he wrote
(which has been published, by the way) , and the reason for
that was because again the restrictions in this country
that if you're a painter, you have to be a painter, and
if you're a lithographer, you're a lithographer. People
used to resent an artist who'd be involved in other arts,
especially on the American scene. So he wouldn't dare
tell anyone in the art world that he has a play that he
has written and which was performed in New York, because
then they would have said, "Well, what the hell are you
doing with writing? You're a painter." But he did. To
me he always seemed very quiet, very gentle, but incredibly
at home in front of the camera. Because I think with one
eye he always had that direction, probably because of his
WESCHLER: Did he have any say in how it was edited?
Did he talk to you about what he wanted from it? Or was
it very much your own personal--?
ENGEL: No, no, Paul told me absolutely nothing about how
he wanted it or what I should do. What I did at the very,
very beginning of the film, which you saw with those pots —
There was one shot there where if you had seen that, you
would think it was Miro, but just a coincidence, you know,
the way thing's dropped. I showed him that part of the
film immediately, because I wanted to make sure that what-
ever is on the screen he feels comfortable with it. He
saw that and immediately mentioned he would rather not
have that. I saw that even before that, but I wanted
him to see it, and then by doing that I'd get his confidence
that I'm not going to do anything against his feelings.
So that was the only thing that I did.
WESCHLER: Eventually you put it in though?
ENGEL: No, no, that was another shot.
WESCHLER: Oh, I see.
ENGEL: It went out, because if you had seen that, that
was really Miro. It was just a coincidence, but it was
obvious. So immediately that went out. So the only thing
that Jenkins would say is if there was something that
he felt uncomfortable with. And that was the only thing.
The rest of it was okay. In fact, he was very, very happy
with the film. So was Martha. They were very pleased,
because the film did win them first prize at the Venice
International Film Festival, 1966. It won all kinds of
awards; it played to good houses. Oh, also, I had to be
very careful, very careful not to make his work look easy.
Because it would be very easy for people to see a film like
that and then go home and begin to do finger painting and
stuff like that. So that is where I had to be very careful
not to make it look like that. So in that sense, the film
was very successful. If anything, I think it gives him a
very large presence, maybe even larger than you see when
you see his paintings.
WESCHLER: Just out of curiosity, the paintings that he
did while you were filming him, were those eventually
sold? Do you have any idea what happened to those?
ENGEL : Almost all those paintings were sold. As far as
selling, Jenkins practically sold out every show at that
time that I was with him or around him. He was selling
everything except paintings that were-- You see, he worked
with the primary colors, as you notice, the red and the
yellow and the blue and orange and the complementary —
purple. So he was very comfortable: those colors are very
easy to live with, so he always sold. Mow he had another
group of paintings that he did sometime later. Those were
very beautiful, huge paintings of grays and whites, and I
don't think he ever sold any of those. But these paintings,
yes, he had absolutely no problem of practically selling
out every show he put on. And that's a lot of money in
WESCHLER: So some people own paintings where they could
even have a movie of how the painting was made.
ENGEL: Oh, yes, yeah, yeah. And then the book came out by
[Harry N.] Abrams [inc.], a huge book on Paul Jenkins. He
does mention the film in there, I think there are even
some little pictures here and there from the film. But as
far as that terrain of selling is concerned, he never had
WESCHLER: You mentioned his primary colors; do you think
that his art is unusually photogenic for a filmmaker?
ENGEL: It's very photogenic; that is another reason I
realized from the very beginning that this should be
visually very beautiful, because you're dealing with colors
that will come off extremely well. The color plus that
things were in motion, that was enough for me. And then,
of course, you look at the man and he looks like Christ.
I mean, you had a beautiful combination of material that
was very filmic, you know?
WESCHLER: Moving from him to the other film that you showed
me the other day, the film you did, The Torch and the Torso.
ENGEL: Torch and Torso, Berrocal .
WESCHLER: Could you explain how that came about?
ENGEL: That again came about in a very interesting way,
because [Miguel] Berrocal had been trying and hoping to
do a film. When he knew I was in Paris, he had someone
come to me, and we had a meeting. The fact that I was
from animation and dealt with movement and shapes and forms,
he thought I would be the ideal person to do a film, because
his sculpture is put together sometimes with as many as
fifteen, eighteen, twenty, thirty pieces. They fit together
almost like a jigsaw puzzle. Because we were working with
these many shapes and sizes, he thought because of my
background I could do well.
Now, I had to be very careful with his film again,
because at first he wanted to make it funny, to have these
pieces move around and jump and come together. But I
would have destroyed him as an artist; and his direction
was not to be funny at all, not when you see those colossal,
heavy, ponderous pieces. They're incredibly powerful.
There's nothing funny about this stuff. So if I made him
funny, as he thought, well, he would have come off as a
clown. So I had to talk him out of that. Although there's
one little moment in the film where pieces jump around.
But that's just enough, it's very little, it's small, it
doesn't hurt him.
Also what was interesting here was that I would go to
black and white, because everything of his was stainless
steel, it was steel. The originals that you see in the film
are all unique pieces. Those pieces were done by him.
They're gray, silver, high polished; and I would not go
into color because, I mean, there was nothing there. Even
when we went to his foundry in Verona, the whole place,
the whole interior was black and white really, black and
white or gray. So why destroy this wonderful color with
a color film? It was just a natural thing.
But the reason again I came to do this film was a
strange coincidence or situation that sometimes bring you
into these experiences, you know. In other words, sometimes
things come to you, and often when things come to you,
even if you don't like a project, take it, because there is
something there that's right.
WESCHLER: Can you describe Berrocal a bit?
ENGEL: Berrocal at that time I think was about thirty-six,
and he represented Spain at the Venice Biennale. He's a
charming fellow. He loves huge cigars. He has a walk like
Groucho Marx; I noticed that on him immediately; I don't
think he's aware of it, but I was. He loves to live well.
He always had a big, beautiful car, big homes. But he ' s a
very hard worker. When he's going into a show of his, he
spends four or five months, twelve, fourteen, sixteen
hours a day, steady, in the foundry. A hard worker, strong
and accurate. His background is architecture; that was the
first thing he did was architecture, then into printing,
then into painting. Nothing really worked until he touched
sculpture, and then it worked. From the very beginning it
worked. And then there was nothing else for him except
sculpture. It was a wonderful thing to work with him because,
as hard a worker as he is, he still loved living well. We
would go out during the shooting; we did the film in Venice,
and we always spent two hours for lunch and had the best of
food. I remember once we had to rush a little bit with
lunch, although the lunch was already very, very good; we
walked around the block, and next thing I know we're going
into a little bistro or someplace because we forgot to have
an after-dinner drink. So I had to have after-dinner drink,
he had after-dinner drink. [laughter] It was too strong
but, you know, when you're working with him, you play with
WESCHLER: I notice in both The Ivory Knife and The Torch
and the Torso, there's no narrative voice. There's no
voice that tells you that the artist was born such-and-
such, or that his studio is located in such-and-such and
so forth. Do you have a particular bias against using that
kind of voice?
ENGEL: I felt that the way we are going to put the films
together, that, just viewing it, it will explain itself
and you don't need anyone to tell you. I find it's very
redundant when you're looking at something. It's all there,
it's all in front of you, so why then have someone tell you
what you're looking at? I feel that the picture is put
together in such a way that you can see the process. Again,
all I do is take you into the environment and show you his
workshop, show you his foundry, show him handling the
material, so you see what the man is all about when he's
at work and then you see the finished product. And if the
art doesn't explain itself, then it's already too bad,
because if you have to explain art, there's something wrong
with it. In other words, in art you're doing something
that you cannot put into words, and that's the whole idea.
Even in Jenkins or Berrocal, those things cannot be put into
words: it has to be seen, it has to be felt, it has to
WESCHLER: One of the nice things about The Torch and the
Torso is a kind of tactile quality to the images.
ENGEL: Yes, I wanted to capture the shine, the spark that
it had, so I put them in front of black velvet and practically
no light, or very little light, but it picked up what was
there. I wanted to just give it back to the viewer, that
that's the way I saw it, and this is the way I'm going
to show it to you.
WESCHLER: One thing interests me in your comments about
art being a nonverbal thing is that I know that you are
not yourself nonverbal. You're very articulate, and also
you have a great love of words. You were telling me the
other day that you love plays .
ENGEL: Oh yes.
WESCHLER: You have a whole shelf of books on theater and
so forth. So that is not a negative attitude toward words
per se at all .
ENGEL: No, my hobby is I love to read plays, and I love
the dialogue. In fact, some time ago, before I started to
do any kind of a painting, I would read a play or read at
least one act. I would have very special plays like [August]
Strindberg's The Father. I would read the first act and
then that would put me in some kind of mood that I could
go into my work. I think it's very unusual. I don't think
there's any other painter who reads plays before he starts
WESCHLER: What is the relationship between the work that's
produced after you've read a play and the play that you've
ENGEL: Well, I think it's probably the structure, the
structure or the way a good play is written, the way the
words fit; it fits like a piece of building, and my work
is very much structured that way. They're very architectural,
and I think plays are very architectural. They have a
structure, and this is what puts me in a good frame of
WESCHLER: Will a dark, somber scene in a play produce a
dark, somber painting?
ENGEL: No, no, it's not so much of that. It's more the
continuity of a dialogue, the way they overlap each other and
the way they fit or go around each other and then come back
from another point of view. That is the character of a
play that makes me feel good, and it puts me in a mood
with my work.
WESCHLER: Returning to live-action films, we've talked
about The Ivory Knife and The Torch and the Torso. This is
a list of the other ones, and I just thought you might
briefly mention any others that you might want to include,
besides the Tamarind film which we'll get to in a second.
ENGEL: Yeah, well, we did talk about Coaraze .
WESCHLER: Right, we've already talked about that.
ENGEL: We did talk about Coaraze. Then there's New York
100 . It's another film that was done for Martha Jackson
Gallery, and it's the work of John Hultberg. Hultberg,
of course, was not as quiet or as delicate or as simple
a film, from a point of view of approach, of working
situation, as the Jenkins film because, see, because here
we're dealing with flat paintings and there's no movement,
no flow of painting. So you were back into a very character-
istic terrain when you work with a painter, although there
was one painting that he was working on at the time —
So you get some idea of him being in motion while he paints.
But the joy was not as much as it was when I worked on the
Jenkins film, because he was really, really truly a filmic
Light Motion, it was done for Esther Robles Gallery
here in Los Angeles. The idea about this film was that
instead of taking photographs over to Europe with her on her
trip to Europe, why not take a fifteen- or sixteen-minute
film and show the gallery and show the artists and see the
work; and then you can move around the work, because a
number of those were in motion, you know; and some had
sound. So why not make a sixteen-minute film? Then she'd
have something to take back to France or Germany, and
people would really have a chance to see her stable.
t^SCHLER: So this was all the people in her stable.
ENGEL: All the people in her stable, yes.
WESCHLER: Were there any particular ones that come to mind?
ENGEL: Oh, [Robert] Cremean was in there; Cremean was in
WESCHLER: Was Claire Falkenstein in there?
ENGEL: No, no, but Cremean was in there, and, let's see,
who else? Oh I'll be damned. Pat O'Neill was in there as
a sculptor, and, oh, some of those artists I don't even
WESCHLER: We can fill them in later.
ENGEL: At this stage, but I can get names on them, yes.
And then recently I did a film on Max Bill, the Swiss
painter and architect and designer and politician [Max Bill] ,
That was done for the Comsky gallery, for Cynthia Comsky.
I very much liked the work of Max Bill, but the situation
here was very complicated, because we were going to do a
film on his work, but the work never arrived. It was some-
where in customs, and we had the cameras and everything all
ENGEL: Yeah. So what we had to do — and Cynthia improvised
the idea — we stretched huge canvases all over the gallery,
and then Max Bill just started to make drawings on the
stretched canvases. It was very impromptu, you know, almost
like a happening kind of thing. He did talk about things.
This was very interesting from a point of view, because
you never knew what he was going to do, because we couldn't
set him in motion in the way of saying, "Now, Max, you stand
here and you stand there and the camera will be — " We
told him, "You do what you damn well please, and I'm going
to work around you." So that was the process. I had two
cameras to work with, so I put them in the positions where
I got the most out of him at work. And the filming was
finished. Then I had to go up to San Francisco, because
he had a large exhibit there, and take a lot of still photos
of his exhibit in San Francisco. So then at the end it all
ended up in the editing room and had to be put together,
really, at the editing table. But it's all right. I like to
work that way, where you really don't know where you're
going to be the next shot, so when you come to the editing,
that's when the whole picture gets put together and you
have a lot more freedom. But it has a good continuity and
it is Max Bill at work.
WESCHLER: Can you describe him by the way?
ENGEL : Well, he was very pleasant, a very gentleman, as
to work with him under these conditions, but I really
don't know how he is when the conditions are different.
But he was very pleasant and very kind, had a kind of a
humorous face for the camera. But, oh, it was very
interesting because, what I did, I looked out the window
(we were on the second floor) and there's a shot there of
the street, you know, red lights and the green lights and
a lot of lines, you know, just stop and lines for the cars
to stop. It had a wonderful Mondrianish quality, looking
down. So I had a shot taken of that, and we showed him the
rushes. He said, "Oh no, that's not me, that's Mondrian."
I wanted to use the shot in the film, because here we are
in the studio, see this man work on a wall, and I had the
camera turn and just pick up a shot, you know, where he is.
But all those lines, you see, he wouldn't have that. But
naturally you have to go with the talent, because if he
tells you, "No, I feel it's wrong," it's wrong.
ENGEL: So I mean, in that sense you have no choice. But
it was a good situation. Filmically, it would have been
a very nice, nice thing, you know, go from the lines in the
street back into the lines back in the room.
WESCHLER: Just a couple of questions about pure technical
matters of filming. You have camera people along who do
the actual manning of these live-action cameras, or do you
do that yourself?
ENGEL: No, no, I'm not a cameraman. I can take still
photos, and I can do pretty well with that, but when it
comes to really work like this, then I prefer to have a
couple of cameramen. Sometimes I just need one, sometimes
I need two. Because I work with a great deal of speed. In
other words, if I walk into a place, like for instance when
I did the Berrocal film and I walked into the foundry, I
just walked in there once, walked through the place, looked
at the corners, the windows, where people were working, and
from that moment on, I know what I want to do . I had the
shots pretty well in my head, even from a point of view of
continuity, how I go from one shot into another. And then
also I like to do a lot of shots which people would say,
"No, it will never work, you're not going to see anything,
it's going to be too light." Then I'll take all those shots,
and also take the shots I know will give me the film.
Then, I will also ask the cameraman, "If you see anything
here that you want to shoot, shoot it, and we'll see what
we get back." But I'm always looking for this happy
accident that you don't find much in film, because everything
is so structured. The cameras are structured, the cameraman
is structured, and they have taboos: you don't do this, you
don't do that, this will never work. I've never done it
before, but I like to find accidents. There's not too
much of it in live-action, but sometimes something happens
that is so wonderful as an image and I can still make it
work, you know, in a total film. But on Berrocal, I shot
one shot of everything, I never shot anything twice. I don't
have to, because if I look through the camera and I have
the composition that I want and it's lit well, the light is
right, then this is it. And as I say, I'm putting a film
together at that moment already.
WESCHLER: Do you use editors?
ENGEL: I use editors, but they don't edit my film. I use
them as splicers; they splice my film. But I don't say that
in front of them. Because that's when I put the film
together. I put a film together when I edit. That's when
I make a film. And what she or he will do is, I pick the
material, I pick the footage, I pick the length of each
shot, that this is what I want. I will ask once in a while,
"Do you have a recommendation? Do you see anything that
I don't see?" That's okay; if a person has an idea, sure,
I listen, and why not? But I make the film when I edit;
that's the only time. Because when I shoot, I already
[shoot] v/ith that in mind, what will follow and how it will
work. But I don't like the process. I don't like to sit
at the editing desk, because what I like to do while I
edit like this is I like to walk around the room and glance
toward the image. And I do that, I walk away, and I almost
feel like as if I was painting, you know, how you walk
away from a painting, you walk back and you look at it. I
almost use the same process when I edit, and that's why
I need someone who only splices and I say, "Okay, let's run
it." And I walk away and I-- Even when it's running I
might walk away and turn around and look. That's maybe a
strange way of doing things, but I have to be almost a
little bit in motion when I'm working on a film and not be
sitting in front of a table.
WESCHLER: Well, why don't we move from talking about the
live-action films, to talking about — Have you covered all
ENGEL: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
WESCHLER: To talking over lithography, and then we'll
talk a little about the time that you did. But
first of all, what was the first time that you went to
ENGEL: In 1960.
WESCHLER: So, you were one of the very early people at
ENGEL: Early, early, yes.
WESCHLER: Let's talk a little about you and lithography
first. Had you done any lithography before you went to
ENGEL: No, no. You see, when I had a call, or a letter,
from June Wayne — [tape recorder turned off]
WESCHLER: Well, starting up again about Tamarind, how
did you know June Wayne, or did you?
ENGEL: I knew June Wayne because I was exhibiting at that
time very extensively here in Los Angeles, so she knew my
work. And although I had never done any lithography or
printing, but that was the whole idea of June--this is
where she was very bright--is to pull in people into a
medium where they've never done anything, to introduce them
to a new field, not just to go to people who've been doing
it, because if they'd been doing it, they'd be doing the
same thing they did yesterday. Her idea was to get people
in there who'd never touched the medium and see what they'd
come up with. That was very good.
WESCHLER: So one day you got a letter from her?
ENGEL: So I got a letter from June Wayne, telling me about
it, that they were offering me this Tamarind scholarship.
And it's a strange thing but, you know, I really turned it
down, really turned it down. But two months went by, four,
six, nine months went by, and she still was asking.
WESCHLER: Why were you turning it down?
ENGEL: Well, because I'd never done anything with print,
and the idea of doing something where you have to wait
and go through all the process and see what it looks like
was something I wouldn't enjoy. Because when you paint,
it's a point of view, you're in it, you're part of it, you're
seeing what's happening. But the idea of doing something
and then to have someone else or even yourself push it or
poke it or whatever you have to do, and wait, you know, that
to me was very alien. But this strange [thing] happened.
After a while, I said to myself, "Now, wait, wait, there's
something wrong. This thing is coming your way. Why are
you turning it down?" You see, that's one of those strange
things you can't explain. Then I said to myself, "It's
wrong for me to turn it down." So I called up June and I
said, "Okay, when shall I come in?" So, okay, we made the
Now the arrangement was a very strange one, because
it's a two-month situation. But, you see, I was working
at UPA and I could only come in on Saturdays and Sundays,
which was all right with her, but it lasted like a year and
a half. For a year and a half I went there on Sundays and
the studio of course then was cold — I think I ended up
once with a pretty heavy cold. But I stuck to it and I
came out with about six or eight or ten, and some were
really full-size, full-size prints. But at the beginning
it was very difficult for me, because, as I say, I had no
idea about the medium. But that was the whole object of
hers, is to have people go in there who are painters or
sculptors and see what they do, even if they fumble or
WESCHLER: We have an interview with June Wayne, but we
don't have an interview with anyone describing what that
process of the early confrontations was. You went there,
and what was it like?
ENGEL: When I went there, all June asked me was if I have
an idea. And I said, "Yes, I have an idea." I think the
idea I had at that time was that I would have Ray Bradbury
write the material that would be like a book, or a large
portfolio; it would have something to do with — I think at
that time, the Bomb was already in motion, this kind of a
wild explosions that was leading up to things. I knew Ray
Bradbury well. But I never got to that, because as I
started to work with the medium, I said, "Oh, the hell with
that book and that portfolio. I'm just going to go wild
and just do what feels natural as far as this whole new
medium is concerned."
WESCHLER: What kind of facilities were at your disposal
for you to go wild with? Was there a printer there?
ENGEL: Oh, at Tamarind you had printers, you had master
printers. Now the whole idea, again, of June's was twofold:
First, to get people who never touched a stone, v/ho'd
never done any printing, that was one, but that was really
not the important thing. The important thing was to develop
master printers, because that's what lacked in this country:
you had no printers. So that was the key drive at Tamarind,
and that's how you have Gemini [Editions, Limited], and
that's how you have Cirrus. I just mention two, and there
are several others that came out of Tamarind. So what she
did, she really developed master printers. She had the
best printer then, a fellow by the name of "Bobitch"
[Bohuslav Horak] that she brought over from Europe. And
under his guide other, let's say people who were involved
in print but not there yet, they were working with Bobitch,
and they were developing as master printers. So I had the
best printer, and I had the best equipment, any paper I
wanted, any paper, stones, anything and everything. She
had everything the best, and that was June's way of doing
WESCHLER: Already in 1960 — it was that way from the very
ENGEL: Oh yes, 'cause don't forget, you also had Clinton
Adams there and Garo Antreasian. Now, Garo Antreasian was
a printer, and you had these two men there who were really
June's right arm. So she had a beautiful shop: it was all
set, all organized, and it was strict and very articulate.
WESCHLER: How do you mean strict?
ENGEL: Strict in that there was no monkeying around there,
it was not a playpen, it was a workshop for serious work.
The only problem was sometimes that talent — Adja Yunkers
was there. Well, I remember that time, he used up something
like $800 or $900 worth of paper, just looking and feeling
his way around. I mean, that was a little too much. I
mean, you could do as you damn well pleased, but that was
unheard of, using that amount of money, just, you know —
And nothing! And I think that's when June began to put,
let's say, guidelines or something down, where if you
wanted a paper, if you wanted a paper, if you knew anything
about papers, it was there for you, but the environment was
that of very serious work. I mean, you can have fun and
all, but it was not a toy shop and the people who came
there, they meant business. Because, after all, two months,
if you come from some place, is not a long time, and you
wanted to walk out of that place at least with, let's say,
eight or ten prints, any size, and twenty each. So let's say
if you walked out with 160 prints — let's say, eight different
images, twenty of each — I mean, after two months, that was
a beautiful thing. You could work there ten, twelve hours
a day, so you were able to be productive, and naturally the
talent that came there, they wanted to be just that.
And June was a real strong influence. Oh, I mean she
never got involved in your work, but when the work was ready
to be signed and sealed with the Tamarind stamp, then she
really looked at every print. I remember I had colored
print, not too big, had I think four or five colors, and
a printer by the name of Joe Funk--even that name gives you
an idea what was wrong there--his hands were dirty and he
was sloppy. Well, after I had these eighteen or twenty
prints ready, they came in front of June Wayne, and June
threw all of them out, because there were little spots on
the white, and that was Joe's doing. That's what I mean,
that she really was--
WESCHLER: She had very high standards?
ENGEL: --on top of you for that aspect. Not what you're
doing, but the finished print had to be really right.
TAPE NUMBER: VI, SIDE TWO
DECEMBER 30, 19 77
WESCHLER: Can you describe this woman. It's rather a
remarkable thing in 1960, to have a woman running a very--
ENGEL: I can be sketchy, but the idea was at that time the
Ford Foundation was going to give out some grants to
different talents, and June was one they were going to give
a grant to, and June said that's the wrong thing to do,
that's not the way to go about it. (Now, I'm just telling
you as I remember.) They said, "Well, what do you mean it's
not the way?" She says, "No, it's not the way. The way
to do it is to set up a shop where you're going to train
not just this one artist, but you train master printers,
plus you have art coming out." At first they said, "Well,
that's strange, and it's a very big order?" But she stuck
to her guns, and she did have some people on the grant
committee that more or less were beginning to go with her;
and finally she convinced them to do just this.
Now, the next big hurdle was after she convinced them
that this is the way to go, then she said, "Okay now, the
place will be in Los Angeles, 'cause that's where I live."
Well, they said, "No, no, no, Los Angeles is not a place
for anything like that; it's the wrong environment." She
said, "Well, if it's the wrong environment, then good-bye."
Again her friends came to her aid, and she finally had her
way. They gave her the money, whatever it was, and the
shop was put up.
And it's interesting, at that time, I think Henry
Seldis had an article in the [Los AngelesJ Times saying
that it's not going to work. Well, I think a year and a
half later. Tamarind had it's first exhibit at UCLA, and
the article started out by saying, "I apologize, because
it works . "
Now the good thing about June was that she could have
gone to New York, 'cause that probably would have been more
ideal, or someplace else. But she said, "No, this is a good
place as any." And you see, again, what was good about it
was that she didn't look for a self--
ENGEL: — aggrandizing, because if she went to New York,
she would have been near the top of the heap, and she would
have been a great lady and all that. So she didn't do
anything like that. She opens a shop here, and she asks
a lot of people who did not, at that time, have international
presence. But that didn't mean anything to her, because
she also called people in that had a large presence at that
time and people who didn't. But she believed in that. So
in a sense she believed in Los Angeles also. And this is
why I'm still a champion of her, because I like this feeling
where you believe in something and just because it doesn't
have a presence, because you don't have the kind of publicity-
like the New York scene, she believed in it, stuck to it, and
she proved that it can be done, and it was done. This is some-
thing very special about her, 'cause so few people here in Los
Angeles have really stayed with the city or helped the city,
they always hang on a coattail of New York or some other place.
You have to give her this credit, that damn it, she did it here,
WESCHLER: Was there a small bias towards Los Angeles
artists in her selections of grants that she gave?
ENGEL: No, I don't think so. I don't think so, because
as I remember they were coming in from all directions.
There was no such thing as one of a type or a direction, no.
I think the variety of talents that she pulled in from the
city were a cross-section of anything and everything, where
the performance was right.
WESCHLER: Can you describe how she ran her place. You
mentioned her staying away from the artists and so forth.
Was it clearly though June's workshop?
ENGEL: No, it wasn't June's workshop, it was Tamarind
Workshop. If you worked there, you started at eight-thirty
or eight o'clock, and generally you worked till five or
five-thirty. If you came in at ten, it was all right. But
I did find that most of the people who were working there,
doing printing, they were very much on time, and it was to
their advantage to be there on time. She would come in
sometimes and look at your work and maybe say a word or
two, but never that I remember would she ever put any effort
or say no, not this way, or do it that way. If you ask
her, she would maybe comment, but there was no such thing.
If she came into the shop, she came in because she wanted
to talk about something to somebody or check the equipment,
because maybe something was going wrong with the equipment,
and that was her activity in the shop then.
WESCHLER: Was she in command of the whole operation, or
were there other people who shared it with her?
ENGEL: Yes, she was in command, and her two big helpers were
Clinton Adams and Garo Antreasian. I mean, they were really
chiefs, let's say. I think at that time Adams and Garo were
really what you call the master printers, and they ran the
shop. But even from them, there was never any interference;
however, if you wanted to ask them or get advice, you know,
technical advice, they were always there and would be very
helpful. Well, that was about their activity. Garo already
was printing his own stuff. So they were also working in the
place on their own work, which always makes things pleasanter.
They're not just people who walk around; they were practicing
artists. So they were working with you.
WESCHLER: You were talking about your own work there. It
wasn't going to be the Bradbury idea?
ENGEL: No, it wasn't, because I felt if I had a Bradbury it
would be a little too much for me at this stage. I realized
I wasn't ready when I was tackling something that for me
was just very new. So I started on a rather small piece
which was predicated on the character of an explosion, and —
What was that first one? Alamogordo or something? Something
like that name the first piece was.
WESCHLER: Something like that, yes.
ENGEL: Then all of a sudden I find that its characteristics
were very comfortable for me, and that I didn't go into a
terrain — what I call a hard-edge — that I was really familiar
with and that was really my terrain. At that time I went
into this other thing which was loose and explosive. In a
sense I was really feeling my way with the medium, and that,
at that time, for me was the most comfortable idea to work
with. Later, when I did a film on Look of the Lithographer,
— now, this was sometime later — but by then I was very
comfortable with the medium. I relaxed and I did several
prints which was really more characteristic of my work.
But that happened later. So, you see, when you go into
someplace like that and you're really new and you don't
know and you almost don't have a total simpatico, at that
moment you really are not doing what is you, but you're
looking, I think, a little bit out. It's a little bit more
comfortable terrain that you're working.
WESCHLER: Well, let's talk about The Look of a Lithographer.
How did that film come about? And how did you get involved
ENGEL: Oh, what happened there, it began again, June
started the film with a man by the name of Ivan Dryer. He
was on the premises, he was almost like an artist-in-
residence, but he was not an artist, he was a filmmaker,
like a f ilmmaker-in-residence. And they worked like a year
and a half or two years, he was shooting and stuff like
that. But June didn't like the material. Again, when
you're dealing with a man like Ivan, whom I used later —
He's a good photographer, but he lacked certain ingredients,
'cause he was working with images, art images and stuff
like that, and he couldn't quite connect. So then June
asked me if I would like to come in and take the project
over. I said okay. Then I talked to Ivan, and I saw
footage that he shot, and there were tons of it, my God.
In reality June wanted me to fire him. Well, how can I
fire the man? He's got dozens of reels. I mean, I need
him because he's the only one who knows where things are,
you know, I don't know. He also knows what's been shot.
So I had to have him. And he was a very nice fellow and a
very good photographer; he just needed a little more
experience, visual experience of seeing things. But he was
very good. And see again, June, not understanding the
medium, she didn't realize that this guy was all right but
he just needed this other something. So I came in and saw
the film, and then I started to shoot material. The
interesting situation was that when I began to point out
certain things — Not that I'd point out but I'd say, "We'll
shoot this" and "We'll now shoot him, we'll get a close-up
on him." My God, a couple of weeks later he was doing it
very well. He caught on, and he began to see things a little
different. Like at the end you see all those people, when
the artists are being introduced. Those are nice shots,
comfortable shots. I began to do this sort of thing in the
shop, and Ivan is very good, because he caught on; he began
to open up his vision, his visual articulation and seeing
So then I think I worked on it like eight weeks, in
total, I think it was about eight weeks, maybe a little
more, but things were moving then. And the minute I began
to edit, that's when I put things together that there's a
flow there. So then everything was okay with June and with
Ivan. We were on the move until toward the end, when June
began to put a little more pressure on the film because she
wanted certain things in a certain way to suit her need.
As I was a little more a poet on the film, I didn't want
it to be so pedantic and so obvious. But if this is what
she wanted and this will work for her, okay, that's her
film, she's going to go out with it and try to make something
of it. So at that moment I would pull back and I would relax
about it and go with what she wanted. I think in total
that it worked out pretty well; there are things in the film
today that, naturally, I would throw out.
WESCHLER: You were mentioning when you [saw the film the
other day] —
ENGEL: The very beginning of the film, of these printers
walking toward Tamarind Workshop and of girls coming across
the street, I would throw all that stuff out, because that
looked like a home movie. The lights were bad, and these
people are not talkers, not when they're facing a camera.
There's a little problem there. All that stuff I would just
junk today. The interesting situation was of course that
Nevelson was the key actor.
WESCHLER: Louise Nevelson.
ENGEL: Louise Nevelson was the key actor in the film, so
she gave the film the glue. I call it the glue that holds
[everything] together so that you can work from her and go
away from her, come back, you see her working, then you
see somebody's taking her print, developing her print, back
to Nevelson. So she became a good ingredient, the center
of the film, and she was wonderful to work with, and she
enjoyed the adventure. But we had to be very careful with
her because she, [laughter] she always wanted to pose. Once
I asked her to walk across the room and, my God, she came
across like Sarah Bernhardt. I said, "No, no, no, Louise,
not like that, just natural, natural, like you are. So
this is the terrain of retakes. Sometimes when I got a
camera on her face, she began to pose. But the other people
in the shop, the printers, the workers, were very beautiful,
and they worked with us. And there was no problem, ever.
It was a long film. But I think if you look at the film
today, for someone who wants to go into lithography, who
wants to do something with the medium and wants to find
about mechanics and techniques, I think it's really there
in that sense.
WESCHLER: An awful lot of information.
ENGEL: Yeah, really a lot, and it's good information. It
has a good insight, because it not only talks about the
stone, what they do on the stone, but it takes you into the
terrain, talking about the paper, how to handle the paper,
how to carry it, even how you dress for the job. All that
stuff is very, very important.
WESCHLER: The narration is June's, is that correct?
ENGEL: It was written by June, yes. I think probably
today some of that could be dropped also, because there's
a lot in front of your eyes that you just don't need that.
But, as I say, you're working for somebody, and that some-
body has to be pleased, and that's what you're doing. But
I think there are moments in a film that are really lovely:
when they pick up that cheesecloth — remember — they pick up
the cheesecloth and you look through it. Things like that.
WESCHLER: And the grinding of the stones is beautiful.
ENGEL: Oh, that is very lovely. Ivan was the photographer,
but I would pick the spots for the point of view of the
composition, and I would pick up little things like you got
the stone when wet and you picked up the bulb above in the
stone. Those are lovely little moments.
I wanted the film to have a character where you can
walk through a place like that and maybe you can even bump
into things, and when you bump into a corner, let it be
there, don't take it out. This is natural, a natural flair
or texture still with a nice sense of structure, the two
work together. Because I did a film where — I don't know if
I mentioned it, I did a film, American Sculpture of the
Sixties --that was a big exhibit at the Los Angeles County
Museum. And I had people coming toward the camera while we
were shooting, and they were waving and things like that,
and I left that in the film. Because what are you going to
do, are you hiding the camera? And it's nice. Then I had
a wonderful shot in there: I remember we were working
here, and a kid was outside someplace, he was coming through
this glass door and it was locked, and he was hitting the
window, trying to get somebody's attention to open the door.
I have that in the film also. I think when you deal with
those activities, like an exhibit or a Tamarind show or
going into a workshop, that little things happen that some-
times I think you should leave in there, because then you
know that it's being photographed, and it's something very
warm and wonderful and friendly, that sort of thing.
WESCHLER: I wanted to move on to some of the other litho-
graphy workshops you've worked at. You mentioned both Gemini
and Cirrus. Can you describe what they are and also how
they were different from Tamarind?
ENGEL: Oh, Gemini at that time — What was the name of that
WESCHLER: Ken Tyler?
ENGEL: Ken Tyler was running Gemini. And of course, he
was from June Wayne. I think he had a lot of the character-
istics of June's: in other words, he ran a very articulate
and very well put together shop that had the same character-
istics as Tamarind. In other words, it was a serious work-
shop. Although I think there was a little more play, because
Ken Tyler can also have fun, more than June Wayne under
the circumstances. But the shop was very well run and very
serious, very serious. He himself did two prints for me,
and the working relationship was good. But I think he had
a lot of June Wayne, somehow about him. I also worked with
him a little later when Jasper Johns and [Robert] Rauschenberg
and [Frank] Stella was there. I did a lot of still photo-
graphy for him on these people, and that gave me a little
more insight to him and to the shop, because I did spend
quite a bit of time.
WESCHLER: What kind of insight?
ENGEL: Insight of how he related to the artists. Because,
for instance, with Rauschenberg , the works were huge, we're
talking about big, big shapes. Whereas June never got near
the stone, you see, Ken Tyler was on the stone. He pulled
the prints, he did the work, he did the whole damn thing
himself. So he was not only running the shop, Gemini, but
he himself did the work. Whereas June ran Tamarind, but
of course June never came near the stone. I mean, she was
not a, like a master printer, she could never function like
a master printer; whereas Ken was functioning as a master
printer, and his relationship to the talent, like Stella
and Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg — [Claes] Oldenburg was
there, too — was very comfortable. I think also what made
it very comfortable was because by two or three in the
afternoon, these people were — I know Jasper Johns and
Rauschenberg, they were by that time pretty well--how
would I say that? — they were very looped, they were drunk,
ah, not drunk, but I mean they were — What's another good
ENGEL: They were — Well, high is a good word, but I
mean on liquor.
ENGEL : Smashed! That's the word. That was a new experience
for me. In fact, I have pictures where Jasper Johns is
working and at the other end is the glass. And they were
just drinking straight stuff, you know. But they kept up
the work, and they never fell down. But, you see, this could
never take place at Tamarind, because June would never allow
bottles of liquor in the shop next to the stone, whereas
Ken had an ambience that was quite different: very serious,
but at the same time the ambience was much more playful or
comfortable for these artists.
WESCHLER: Was there tension between Ken and June after
Gemini got started?
ENGEL: If there was a tension, I really don't know. I know
that, from my point of view, I feel that Ken does not like
to be referred to him as a Tamarind alumni. But, what the
hell? That was what he was, you know, that's where he
learned, that's where he gained his knowledge. That's why
Tamarind was important, because it produced people like him,
and that was the key factor for Tamarind, to produce.
WESCHLER: Can you describe Ken a little more specifically?
I don't have an image. What does he look like?
ENGEL: Oh, Ken is a rather short fellow, short and sort of
husky. He likes to look like the fashion of the moment. He
dresses and has an appearance almost like a grand artist.
So I think he likes to get into the pictures that way,
because he does consider himself, and he was one before he
turned into just a master printer. But he likes to be on
the scene. If they're going to wear sandals, he's going to
wear sandals; if they wear blue jeans, he's going to wear
blue jeans; if they're going to have hair down to their
ankles, he's going to have hair down to the ankles. So he
likes to look at what the going rate is. I mean, that's
him. But I always find him very friendly and pleasant.
Also, I think he really enjoys the printing world: he enjoys
it, it's part of his blood, that's in him. And this is
Ken. My relation with him was always good and very friendly
WESCHLER: Why did he leave L.A.? Do you know?
ENGEL: Now, that I don't know. I think there were problems.
There was a split between him and a partner. Maybe he
wanted to go back there to New York. Because you got to
remember that Ken dropped — Really he dropped all the what
you call local talents. The minute he got Rauschenberg,
everybody was out. He did two prints for me, and I had about
six other drawings ready. 'Course he liked my work, he
liked my sculptures. In fact he had one on his desk all
the time. He had things going for me, so I prepared drawings,
I had about four or five drawings ready. And then all of a
sudden he got this deal with Rauschenberg, and that was the
finish of the local talent. I think later, naturally, he
came back to some of the talents that he worked with, but
primarily he then hung onto the tailcoat of the New York
scene, because then came Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns,
Oldenburg, Stella, and I think he was finished with this
area. So again, you see, this is where June was so important
to Los Angeles: because she could have people from all over
the world — she did — but she constantly had people from here
working at Tamarind. Whereas Ken sort of put an end to that.
So I was there with all those drawings, and they were never
WESCHLER: How about Cirrus?
ENGEL: Well, Cirrus again was a product of Tamarind. I
met him [Jean Milant] at Tamarind. He opened his shop and
he did a lot of prints. I did a lot of prints with him.
But the terrain that he was going in was a terrain that
was much looser and let's say more organic and nothing like
my work, which was the architectural, hard-edged, geometrical
shape. So the relationship you had was not a good one. I
mean, good as far as a person to person, but I realized
that this was not the terrain that he enjoys, there was no
joy in that for him (this is my point of view) . And naturally
I don't work the other terrain. But I think his shop was
good; he's done some good things. But, of course, nothing
like Gemini or Tamarind. It was much looser, and it was more
like a shop that an artist would put up in his garage if
he can open up the place. So that was another scene, another
world. But the work was good, because he himself is a good
master printer. But, see, whereas Gemini could go in any
direction — I mean, you go to the American hard-edged color
field painter. . . .
ENGEL: [Ellsworth] Kelly, Kelly, you see, Gemini could go
in that direction, could go in that direction with [Josef]
Albers, no problem. Cirrus, I think there was a problem;
it was something that was maybe not difficult but not
comfortable for him. The other terrain is the terrain that
I think he enjoyed.
WESCHLER: What kind of artists are in the terrain that he
ENGEL: Oh boy, I have a problem here, because, see, most
of the talent that he was working with were new to me and
I really-- I don't know if Stephan Van Huhn had a print
made over there that I liked and admired, I think it was
Stephan Van Huhn who had this one print that I know, but I
don't know. I think he did something with Cremean again.
But the work in general was much more organic and loose.
And I saw very little of the other kind of work.
WESCHLER: Moving from talking about the different printers,
let's talk about your sense of lithography. I'm sitting
below a very impressive one right here. What is this one
ENGEL: This is really a litho I like to call Homage to
David Smith and it's very interesting because there you
build up the stone. In other words, you put a piece of
shape on the stone which is like a — You know when you do
woodcut? You take a piece of linoleum like that, and you
put it in a stone, and then things happen, a lot of paint
gets into the crevices, and that is something very nice, and
that's where sometimes things are accidental. Well, of
course again in printing, it's a nice thing to have that
happen. Because when you work on prints, generally you're
so articulate that your drawings, everything's so measured,
it's always going to be in. Whereas here things can happen
because there might be more paint getting into the crevices
or less paint gets into the crevices, and you're looking
for that wonderful thing, as I say, that I like to see
happen, the discoveries. Whereas the other one, what you
see, actually, thac's —
WESCHLER: It's more geometrical.
ENGEL: Yeah. And I like that but —
WESCHLER: What's that called?
ENGEL: I call them the New York Facade. There you know
pretty damn well that nothing's going to happen except
what you have on the paper and what you want to happen.
I'm much more comfortable with the medium now. I do like
it, and also it's a wonderful thing to have twenty at once
sometimes and not just one, you know, it's a nice feeling.
WESCHLER: How does the lithographical work relate to the
painting, on the one hand, and to the sculpture and also to
your animation work?
ENGEL: No, I don't think I could pull animation into this,
although the end one over there, if you look at it, has a
sense of movement like those verticals are running up and
WESCHLER: In a way, both of these remind me to some extent
of the Train Landscape in terms of the sense of shape and
ENGEL: Yes, well, I think larger shapes I work with, and
I carry them into my painting or into my prints or into my
sculptures. But I don't really push that or bring it,
although even there, on the second one, you see things grow
from the top to the bottom, so you have a progression of
movement, as if your camera is picking up there and then
WESCHLER: And reads that way. And then it also has this
strange kind of way of reading, obviously in perspective,
too. It keeps on popping back as though it is a building
facade or something.
WESCHLER: And then it's kind of startling to realize that
it is very simple shapes that are very —
ENGEL: Very simple, yeah. But I think as the camera moves
down on the building — you're up there and you move it down —
this is what will happen. In other words, I could go below
this and see the bottom, and then everything would look
different on the top. So I think once you work on film as
I have been, which is a long time, you almost instinctively
sometimes have this creeping into your work. The continuity
idea gets into your work sometimes. But I think the important
thing is that today I'm comfortable with the medium, I can
work with it, and I don't have any problems like I had at
the very beginning where I felt, "Well, when will I see a
print?" That doesn't exist anymore. That's just a part of
the process and I accept it. [tape recorder turned off]
WESCHLER: Well, okay, we've just been talking about how
to end this tape today. We've covered a lot of the things
you've been doing in this very diverse and sort of versatile
career. Where are you today? What are your horizons in
terms of your art?
ENGEL: Well, today I'm of course very much involved in
film, films from a point of view of a painter, from a point
of view of a graphic artist. Of course, the magic of move-
ment is so important for me. It always has been, because
from the very beginning I was very aware of the world of
the dance. That will always be a part of me and a part of
my painting. So I think what will happen, I will be working
on films, but at the same time I cannot ever quit painting,
because I still have a big question in my head in front of
me about films. As much as I do it and I enjoy it, the
question mark is a big one.
WESCHLER: How so?
ENGEL: "Is it really a medium of consequence?" Because
I don't find film as large a consequence. Now, I'm not
talking about abstract films where you deal with whether
the art is working, but I'm talking about films that I've
been involved in, maybe involved in tomorrow, and the whole
medium for me still looks very thin. A play, a good play,
a well-written play is timeless; and then, you see, a
painting is timeless. I mean, look at this situation: A
friend will say, "I'm going to see an old film." "Oh, an
old film. What are you going to see?" "Citizen Kane.
This movie house shows nothing but old films." Now, he
keeps talking abouc this word old. Now, if I said to
him, "I'm going to see a Picasso show," I say, "I'm going
to an early Picasso exhibit," or "I'm going to see an early
Cezanne show." But I never can say to him that I'm going
to go see "old paintings by Picasso." You see, so this is
the question. It's a very big one. Because you take Citizen
Kane, which is acclaimed as a picture of consequence, yet
you refer to it as an old film. And it is old, when you
look at it. In many ways, it just looks like an old film.
But you can go and see a Cezanne exhibit — I saw fairly
recently some early Ce2annes--and even now I mention the
word early; I don't see old Cezannes, but early--and
damn it, it looks like a painting that was done yesterday
and it's going to be for tomorrow. This is a very, very
important situation here, of looking at old films and
looking at early art works.
WESCHLER: Films seem to date faster than —
ENGEL: They date faster because they're not well done.
They date faster because the ingredients that make an art-
work very special is not there. Also, you're dealing with
seeing for the moment, which, naturally-- See, in film the
costuming, the clothes date the film, the haircut would date
a film, expressions will date a film. But I think the total
ingredients of a film as a film art is not there yet.
Now, there's nothing wrong with that. After all, I mean,
when we're talking about paintings, we're talking about four
hundred years ago, Giorgione, I don't know, four or five
hundred years ago. When we're talking about film, we're
talking about 1920 — 1920, nothing — we're talking about 1934.
So it's good, because we're dealing with an art form that
is so new.
Also there are a lot of other things about film that
are still strange. Because when you look at a screen it's
empty; then you run a film, and then the screen is empty
again. So this is a strange situation. Sometimes if I see
something very good on a screen, I would like to take that
screen off the wall and wrap it up and take it home with
me, you know. I don't want another film on that screen.
Which is a horrible thing, you see. They've already destroyed
something for me. But these are large questions, because
the character of the film is very mediocre, and also the
aspect of music. Now you can see a heavy play--you can see
The Death of a Salesman on the stage, and no matter what
happens, there's no music. In other words, the music is
not there to help the actor. On a film, the music is very
important, because so often the performances are so bad
that it's the music that really hooks you into enjoying
the film. So that's another aspect of it. As I say, on
the stage you don't have music to help the scene, to help
a situation. So that's another strange thing.
Another thing is also, which is not unpleasant, but,
you see, the fact that you have music so often in a film,
that means that it has a choreographic character, that
somewhere there is a dance in that scene because the music —
How often do you see people walking from offices and you
have music under it to emphasize the walk? Now that's
already a choreographic character which the film takes on.
Then you have people like Chaplin, as a performer,
which is something very, very unique. When you're that
unique, you become an art object; not many actors have that.
In other words, Chaplin could turn his back and walk away
and he's still Chaplin. But he's so unique, therefore,
that he becomes an object of art, see? Now, that is unique.
A good dancer has that on the stage, if he's that good, or
she's that good. They become something more than just
being a human being. They become objects of art, they're
that good. So these are ingredients that art has, stage
has, but film doesn't have these things yet.
WESCHLER: Or rarely has them.
ENGEL: Or rarely. Or often they are like illustration of
a text; they function more like illustration to a script.
Now, this is good — It's not good or bad, it's not important.
But what is important for me [is that] I find a mediiim that
has not arrived yet as an art form, whereas the world of
painting, you know-- You just never go to see old paintings;
you see early works. But if you see an early work of a
film director, regardless of his talent, they just look
like old films. And films do destroy themselves, because
the camera's changing, the light is changing, the approach
to filmmaking is changing. The world of painting's changing-
you have cubists, you have impressionists, expressionists--
but they still are works or art that stand time.
WESCHLER: How about something like Oskar Fischinger's
films? Do you think that they'll age as badly?
ENGEL: Well, Fischinger cannot age, because you take
Study No. 7, you're dealing with pure lines, you're dealing
with shapes that are classic. It has a classical character:
a line has a classical character, a square is a square, a
circle is a circle. Those are classical shapes, and nothing
can destroy those shapes or forms. Nothing can destroy a
movement, see. So you're dealing with something that's
close to art; I don't say I'm going to see "an old film of
Fischinger." It's no old film. That's an early film,
because you're dealing with an artist. That's the early
work of an artist.
WESCHLER: That is the level of film that you're aspiring
ENGEL: I'm looking for something where I can say, "I'm
going to see an early film" of somebody and not "an old
film" of somebody. And I want that early work of a film-
maker to be an early work!
WESCHLER: Are we getting closer to that, do you think?
ENGEL: No! No way! No way. Maybe there are moments.
But you see, in film, sometimes when you see a film —
Film is almost a one shot from a point of view of viewer,
because that thrill that sometimes you get out of a film
when you see it for the first time, those brillant little
moments of diamonds, the second time they're not diamonds.
They fade, because that first experience was so right, and
the second or third time they disappear. Also, films
slow down; when you're working on a film and you're looking
at a film for the first time because you're editing, you're
putting it together, there is time there and it's wonderful.
The second time, third or fourth time-- [snaps his fingers]
those things disappear. Where at first it was brilliant,
the second time you look at it, it's not. Because your in-
take is so deep, your first intake is so deep that you remember,
Whereas when you look at a Cezanne landscape, you can sit
for one or two hours and you go back a week later or you go
back six months later, and you discover things 1 Now, of
course, somebody would say you can discover things in a film,
too. But I don't find it so. I still am going back and
seeing an old film, and I see an early Cezanne.
WESCHLER: So in your own work, while you are doing film,
you will also retain the painting and other things as well.
ENGEL: Oh, yeah. Because as I say, the question mark is
there, and it's a big one. So you have a foot in that,
and a foot in other things, and you wonder which way. Yet
you can't help yourself. You're working in both directions.
But film as a medium for the painter is important. It's
a must, because you have to work with movement. Now, this
movement is a very interesting situation. You know, years
ago, when you had singers entertain you on a stage, they
stood still; now today they move — groups are moving. Very
few singers or groups will come on a stage and stand still.
So this aspect of movement is very important, and it's very
much of our time. That's why I think Chorus Line was
incredibly successful, because people who went to musicals
or went to theater, they had never really been exposed as
if they had gone to a ballet. Why did they love it? They
loved it because it moves. The first time on that stage
when they're getting into position and when they're in
position, you know — Have you seen Chorus Line?
ENGEL: Well, the first time they stand in position and
all of a sudden they turn around and make a move, [claps
his hands together] you know what happens in that theater?
[He gasps, imitating the audience.] Now why? That was just
a simple turn and a move. There's something about this
aspect of movement that people today relate to more than
they ever have. I think Chorus Line is probably the
largest example of it. I see an incredible continuity here
between the first Disney, ah "Whistle — "
WESCHLER: "Whistle to — " oh whatever.
ENGEL: Yeah, an incredible continuity here from that
early Disney — I think 1927 or '29 — and a Chorus Line.
Because there for the first time people saw on the screen
the movement and sounds, but so beautifully integrated
that it was something very special, you realized it was
very special. That's what happened with Chorus Line today,
because people had never really been exposed on this very
popular level to that aspect of movement, you know? So
movement for me is very important. So film for me is very
important, because I have to go that way. In other words
there are sometimes when you have directions to go and you
have no choice.
TAPE NUMBER: VII, SIDE ONE
FEBRUARY 16, 19 7 8
WESCHLER: Today, we're here with you at your studio at
Cal Arts, in your office. Outside there are many people
scratching on their animation boards and upstairs there ' s
a whole show devoted to your student's works. It's a good
place to talk more about animation.
ENGEL: Yes. What I'd like to do first is talk about some-
thing that often people ask when they see [my] work. They
ask, "How come you're doing this? How come you're working
with this kind of a straight line, this kind of hard-edged,
architectural approach to paintings?" It's always been a
mystery to people what makes a person go on that terrain.
Generally I have no other words except my answer has always
been that I think that if you are that very specific in
your direction, it's because you had no choice. You had no
choice. So then, how can you back that up? You have choice,
I mean, you can say, "You could change your mind." But I
think if I go back a little bit, then it becomes obvious
that in the early, early stage — I'm talking about when I
was thirteen or fourteen — that certain things happened, and
now, when I think back, it's an indication of a direction,
and therefore there was no choice.
One of my early recollections was that I was with
some friends, and we went to visit some people back in
Budapest, and there was a painting on the wall. The painting
had a door, and from that door three dogs ran out, and they
were in the air — One was in the air, the other landed, the
other one was on the steps. But underneath there was a lot
of space, and the space went back, and it had lines on it.
Now, what was interesting in retrospect is that the dog
didn't interest me: the empty space to me was interesting.
That was what I was looking at, the space that went way back
and it had lines on it. That to me was the something that
grabbed me, and I looked at it. I never looked at the dogs;
it was the space and the lines.
And another interesting experience, again back in
Budapest. Again I couldn't be more than twelve or so; I
never knew anything about automobiles, and I couldn't care
less. I couldn't tell one from another, and I never really
saw that — It was something that moved. I remember one day
I came around a corner, and there was an automobile, and I
stopped, and I said, "I like that. This I like." You know
what was that? I saw the front of a Rolls-Royce. Now, the
front of a Rolls-Royce was square, the old grille.
WESCHLER: The grille, yeah.
ENGEL: Now, it hit me so hard that I said, "Now that I
like, I like that car." By seeing that front, that square
front with the lines in the grille, it again was something
I took to. Now why would I take to this when I couldn't
see a car? But the shape, the design hit me; there was
something already obvious.
And then I think a third experience would be when I
saw Early Masters, let's say Rubens or Rembrandt and the
large portraits. It wasn't the head that fascinated me,
but around the edges, where he left things unfinished, where
you could see the texture of the brush, that portion of it
Now, you see, these are three experiences, and I'm
talking about when I'm around twelve, thirteen, fourteen,
that that was the thing that grabbed me. So therefore some-
thing was already in my gut, had to be, because at that age,
why wouldn't I look at the faces? But I looked at this
unfinished canvas, and even the surface of the canvas was
almost coming through, and I felt, now this is a painting
by itself that you could put a frame around. So this, and
the front of a Rolls-Royce where you had these straight
hard edges, hard structure, a piece of mechanism, that
I was aware. So this is what I mean. And then, from
there on, it just happened that later when I began to give
it more thinking — now I'm talking around the age of seven-
teen or eighteen and not been exposed to anything of what
you'd call abstract painting of any kind, of nothing — I
was beginning to feel and think that I could put a straight
line or a circle, or I could put anything on a piece of
paper, and it would be a painting of itself, of its own.
It would have its life, because it came out of a human
being. So I started to do that kind of art work, and I
mean I'd never seen anything like that before, but the
feeling was that it's got to be right. Now, what's inter-
esting here-- Because I later discovered Kandinsky, and
Kandinsky came on this theory by coming home one night,
and he saw one of his paintings upside down, and he said,
"God, it looks right." Yet the content in that sense is
gone. And [Frantisek] Kupka was another man who came to
his terrain of nonobjective painting by eliminating more
of the image, because he was almost a very decorative
illustrator at the beginning. But they came through all
that process somehow, whereas the thing with me was that
I had none of that, and had not even been exposed to
contemporary art, and yet I was beginning to put just lines
and squares and triangles on a piece of paper.
So this is the way I'd like to just explain that it's
got to be there somewhere in the gut. And when you are
on it at that early age and you stay with it, you have no
WESCHLER: Have you ever thought about how it was in your
gut at that early age? I mean, were there were any kinds
of support for aesthetic ideas in your family? It's a
rather remarkable thing to find a twelve-year-old having
that interest in space, or having that interest in a grille.
ENGEL: Yeah. Well, you see, at that age I had no idea,
I had no words for it, the grille, or I had no words for
it — "it's space" — but it fascinated me, that feeling of
space on a canvas. Never the people: that was of no
consequence. It was always the space. It's the feeling
of mood, the dramatic mood of maybe light and dark. And
for that I have no answer, none whatsoever. I had heard
a lot of music at that age, because there was music around
the family, and there was music around that world. In
Europe, you were exposed to music. So that was the only
thing. But the art that I was exposed to — Naturally you
went to the museum and you saw the old Masters .
WESCHLER: Can you describe your family a little bit,
about what kind of background you had.
ENGEL: Well, my family background, I would say, was rather
simple; the only thing is that my mother did play the piano.
So there was that sound, that musical sound. That was
the only exposure, let's say, that came out of the family
to me. Otherwise there was no other artistic environment.
WESCHLER: What did your father do?
ENGEL: Father was like a semi- jeweler-designer , but not
of consequence, and not of anything of value. There were
no drawings around the house. It was probably just at
work when he did that; it was a combination of that kind
of activity in that world. But that did not expose me
to any kind of drawing.
But it was just in the head, so that when I was in
high school, for instance, Emerson High School, and every-
body had to go out on the field to draw the trees and land-
scapes, I told the teacher--her name was Miss Goff — I
said, "I would rather just stay in the room and make my
own drawings and not have to look at trees for that purpose."
And I don't know what prompted her to agree with me, because
she said, "You can just stay in the room and do your drawings,"
whereas everybody else had to go out on the field and do
the landscapes. Even at that time I just couldn't under-
stand why I had to look at something to make something on
a paper of artistic value.
Now, again, I can't explain these things, but this is
what I mean when you have no choice. You're going on
something that is absolutely unexplainable . Now there is
such a thing that you could say therefore that I'm a
primitive, because I didn't come out of studying Kandinsky
or by studying Kupka or the Bauhaus or Klee. So then you
could say, "Maybe he's a primitive." Whether it's good or
bad I don't know. But these are the principles that some-
times guide a person into a terrain that you can't always
explain. Or you say, "He did that because Picasso was
doing a cubist painting."
That is something I just wanted to put down on paper
as a record, and for what value I don't know. But there it
WESCHLER: When did you first encounter Kandinsky? Can
you describe your feelings?
ENGEL: Yes, I encountered Kandinsky in Los Angeles one
day, and it was a tremendous influence.
WESCHLER: Under what circumstances?
ENGEL: I think he had an exhibit on Wilshire Boulevard
someplace. I think Hillary Bay was there as I vaguely
remember. And for the first time I saw —
WESCHLER: What era would this be?
ENGEL: Oh, I think it had to be around '39, I think '39
or '38. I saw Kandinsky for the first time, and then I
realized that my thinking, or whatever I was doing, was
really okay, because there it is on the walls, and it's
real, you know?
WESCHLER: Did he have a reputation in Los Angeles? Had
it reached out here that Kandinsky was important? Or was
he a relative unknown at that time?
ENGEL: I think he probably had a presence with painters,
but I think it was some kind of a strange situation that
Hillary Bay — I don't know what was the contact, how she
came to this city. But there was the exhibit, and how I
even got there or who told me to go there, I don't even
recall that. But there it was, and for the first time I
realized that such art existed. Because up to that moment
I would hide my work and really not show it to anyone,
although then much later you know I showed the work to Oskar
Fischinger. But it was still at the very, very beginning.
By that time I knew that such things existed. But it's
way before that, those experiences that I think are of
consequence. So therefore, as I say, sometimes you have
no choice, you know, no choice.
WESCHLER: Have you ever looked back and thought about what
it would be like had you gone a different route?
ENGEL: Looking back, no, I couldn't have. I could not
have gone another route, because that particular direction
of feeling was so strong that I had absolutely no desire,
for instance, even to pick up a pencil and try and draw
somebody. Although I did go to life classes and did some
life-study work in class. But it was to me something I
pushed myself, because I felt I should do that because
everybody does it, it has to be done. But I could never
get into any kind of a real effort to make that thing
important. 'Cause I always felt that that's not me, that's
not me, and I'd have to go back to just drawing those
straight lines and circles and have this kind of activity
on a canvas. That to me always felt right, felt good.
Even now I might draw a little bit, but, you know, throw
the pencil away. It's like drinking something that doesn't
taste good and you spit it out. That's me. Because I know
another person next to me can be drawing away, and I can
admire--! do admire other works, you know, there's no
problem there — but when I get to the canvas or a paper, I
cannot do that other work with any kind of conviction and
generally I always end up by just tearing it or just throwing
the pencil down. And this is I think something that's very
special and very beautiful, because often you hear other
people, other artists — I heard Jacques Tati when they
asked him why did he do comedy, and Tati faced the whole
audience at the academy and said, "I had no choice." And
I heard that from several people. In fact, I made notes
at one time, about six or seven pianists, very famous jazz
pianists and some other people, and it was interesting:
they all came up with that answer. 'Cause they said,
"How come you didn't go into classical music — Brahms,
Schubert, Bach — why do you do this?" I forgot his name,
the very famous jazz pianist--
WESCHLER: Dave Brubeck?
ENGEL: Somewhere of that area, and that person again said,
"I have no choice." So I'm not the only one who ends up
at that conclusion.
WESCHLER: Can you describe, by the way, your work method
when you're working on an animated —
WESCHLER: Abstraction. I mean how do you actually work?
Do you work in the morning, do you work in the evening?
How long do you work at a time? What's it like?
ENGEL: So then this work, this abstract work eventually
goes on into animation. By that I mean it had to go into
movement. I generally have an idea, and sometimes I make
a continuity board where I might plan this thing step by
step. But I always give enough space or time that if I
want to change anywhere in the middle, although I have a
structure there, I can change. And if I change, then I
let that thing happen and go until it exhausts itself
before I get back to, let's say, the continuity that,
originally, I planned.
I like to work in the mornings. That's my best
time. I can sit down at seven o'clock and do work maybe
until one, two, or three in the afternoon. For me that's
the best time, for me. And then during the day or any
other time, if I have ideas, I sketch them down, I make
notes. It can come from many sources, although when you
see the material, it's pure abstraction. But the inspiration
could come from various places, could come from listening
to a good play. I remember when I saw Uncle Vanya in
New York with George C. Scott, the rhythm of the speech
was so special that that turned me on, just turned me on to
wanting to do — By "wanting to do" I don't mean I copy
or interpret, but it turns me on "to do." And then I
sit down and get into motion. But, as I say, that some-
times for me is something that motivates me. Or, then, of
course, my paintings, ideas come from my paintings or maybe
other paintings that I see that might kick up an idea for
me for an abstract film.
WESCHLER: One of the things I was really struck by in
your abstract films that I saw was how they felt like
thinking. I mean, they had that process of transformation
that is like a person thinking about shapes, movement and
so forth. You mentioned that you can change while you go
along, but generally do you have the whole idea for the
film almost in reels in your head that you then work out
on paper, or do you get the ideas as you're working with
ENGEL: Some segments I would have in my head, some segments
Others, I work out. And other areas I leave it — it's
like an open end — I leave these things to happen. Or let's
say you move into a direction that you would never even
know is there, but by moving in that direction, you open
up another avenue of ideas. That's why it is good to be
open-ended. But when I finish, it's got to have a sense
of structure. Not necessarily a beginning, a middle, and
an end, but it still has a sense of structure, so that you
feel a sense of completion, or it ends. I think in these
abstract films, it's really important the way you start,
and I think it's even more important sometimes the way you
go out. It's as important as how a person on the stage
leaves a stage: you can leave a stage and yet you'll
still be there for some time before you're out. And that
aspect of it will be also in my film at the very end. It's
got to be that way. And that is in a sense the structure.
WESCHLER: And that sense of structure is there from the
start, do you think? Or it becomes apparent as you're
working on it?
ENGEL: Some of it is there from the beginning, and some
of it will just present itself. Because I think the
beautiful aspect is that you must discover something while
you're in work. You've got to discover new ideas and new
avenues. Otherwise you lock yourself in and nothing's
going to happen except what you already planned. But I
like to discover these other ideas or shapes of forms,
gestures, by always leaving time and space for you.
WESCHLER: Do you find that your initial inspirations for
films take the form of something like a premise for a
film, like "In this film I'm going to retain this triangle
through various permutations? Is it that kind of verbal
premise, or is it something that's —
ENGEL: No, I think it's something that should be that way:
You work with the same image and you bring it back, you
send it away, bring it back from another point of view and
give that shape other opportunities. Because it makes all
the difference whether a shape comes in from the top, goes
in the side or comes in from the bottom, or goes back into
space, comes back in front of you from space. This aspect
of repeat is very important, because it's very important
in music: you repeat the melody, you repeat the tune.
This I'm very aware of, and that is why I repeat. Dancers
do that: they do the same step or several steps, and some-
time later they come back and they do the same step again.
I think that's very beautiful. It makes the whole thing
more together, it's structure.
WESCHLER: It's definitely the case that in your animation
abstracts that I saw the other day, when a shape leaves
your space, leaves the frame, you have a definite sense of
its presence out there waiting to come back in; or if it
doesn't come back in — It's not at all just what goes on
in the frame; it's as though the whole room becomes filled
ENGEL: Yeah, because when you work on a film, you have to
immediately realize that although you're working for a
canvas which is immediately in front of you, but in film
there is a space, the canvas is endless. So whether it's
right, left, top, or bottom, the space is there, and the
space is around the canvas. I say canvas , I should say
screen. Everytime I move anything, if it goes out a
certain way, it also sometimes has a natural rhythm which
has to turn around. It has no choice, 'cause the way it
goes out, it will come back in a certain way. It has to
reappear. Therefore when something goes off the screen,
it's either waiting in the wings, because then it comes to
a total stop, or the going out has such rhythm and style
that it has no choice because it's going to make a turn
outside the screen and come back again. Oh yes.
WESCHLER: Do you have fantasies of the turns and so forth
that are going on off the screen that you aren't drawing?
As you have several shapes go out, do you imagine the
pirouettes that are going on?
ENGEL: Oh yes, because when I design and I have a screen,
if a shape is going that way, then I know that the natural
rhythm will be here: it either comes in here or it can
come here, but I already establish a natural rhythm. Now,
if I have something that goes up, chances are that that
might go up to infinity and that can go away, or it can
stop and wait in the wings. But if I have any kind of a
rhythm, obvious rhythm, then that rhythm has a life out
there, so it has to come back. So I'm very aware of this
aspect of it, which I call natural rhythm.
WESCHLER: Looking at the walk that we took upstairs in
your space, what we had were several pages from your
animation that were hung on the wall almost as if they
were drawings themselves, to be looked at as paintings or
drawings. How do you think generally animation should be
read when it's in a situation like that, when you're showing
your stuff up there?
ENGEL: I think when you see animation in continuity,
which already is in the work, and this is a by-product of
a film, I think you should be able to enjoy them, some-
times separately. Sometimes they become a piece of art;
sometimes I take a piece from that and make it into a large
drawing or a large painting. But also I think it has more
presence in total continuity when you see the progression
and you see the process of movement; I think then it has
a life of its own. Because if you take out a single
drawing it is a complete item, that's it. But when you see
a group, then you have an idea that that one drawing is of
no consequence. The fifty is of consequence.
WESCHLER: Do you see yourself-- This is kind of a silly
question but it leads into a whole other set of questions.
Do you see yourself as an artist who makes films or as
filmmaker who does paintings, or--
ENGEL: I think I see myself as an artist who works into
the film world. It had to come first. I mean, for me it
had no other way. The drawing aspect of it, the design of
it, it came first, and then film was the next natural step,
because so much of that stuff has a feeling of movement
in it. And also it was, let's say, also part of me. My
first exposure to art was through the ballet, so that was
a very important moment for me. But the drawing had to
eventually move, it had to go someplace.
WESCHLER: And yet throughout this whole process of moving
into animation, you've retained your painterly side and
your lithography and so forth as another facet. How do you
see those two related to each other? You mentioned that
occasionally you take images from your films and work them
out in painting. Does it work the other way also?
ENGEL: No, but mostly when you work with animation and
you work with shapes and you move them around logically,
which is the natural rhythm, the natural turn, then you
come upon compositions which you could no way get there,
no [other] way that you could get them.
WESCHLER: As an example of the things that you couldn't
anyway get to, you showed me some geometrical shapes that
started out to be in animation but just weren't going to
make it as animation.
ENGEL: No, it was much too complicated and much too
difficult, and I just couldn't really go with that. But
I came on some wonderful images, and I made those images
into prints. Again, that's the beauty of this thing:
these two mediums help each other, they give. Because here
I'm working on animation and I arrive at ideas that I can
turn into art work as separate objects or pieces by them-
selves. So they give to each other.
WESCHLER: I think later, at the last session, we'll look
at the specific art pieces, paintings and so forth, and
talk in detail about structure and so forth. But it would
be helpful for me, independent of talking about them, to talk
about the history of your relations with dealers and that
kind of thing. I think it would be helpful for people.
WESCHLER: I noticed in looking at your resume that you
particularly had dealer relationships with Paul Kantor
and Esther Robles.
ENGEL: Yes, I had a dealer relationship with Paul Kantor;
that was my first gallery.
WESCHLER: Can you talk a little bit about him and about
the shows that you did there?
ENGEL: Well, Paul was the first one on the Los Angeles
scene that was showing contemporary art work. He was a
difficult person. I think he still is, but he was good
for Los Angeles because he opened up the whole terrain. I
think I had about six or seven one-man shows with him. He
always had a lot of simpatico for the work; he liked the
work, and the relationship was good between us. But Paul
also had other ideas, and I think the stock market was one
of those big items.
WESCHLER: How so?
ENGEL: Well, I think he was beginning to buy a lot of
stocks. Then things began to happen to him which was not
very pleasant, because it just made him so damn nervous
that he began to itch. That lasted for a couple of years.
But I think he helped the city in the sense that he brought
really contemporary art on the scene. He was one of the
first ones that had a large presence. But the thing about
Paul was that he never really promoted anybody. He was
not like the New York dealers, where they had artists and
they would see that the artist would have a chance to go
to other museums, or take the whole exhibit and make sure
that exhibit would go to universities. Maybe it was too
early for Los Angeles to think that way. But, anyway we
never had that. It was always just have the show, have
the exhibit, which lasted approximately a month, then the
exhibit would come down, and then he would hold maybe half
a dozen pieces for sales after the exhibit would come down.
But we never had any plans, any ideas of how to make the
next step, where to take this material. It really just
came off the wall and went into the closet.
WESCHLER: You describe him as difficult. Can you flesh
that out a little bit?
ENGEL: Well, you know, you don't want to be unpleasant
about it, but he was very difficult. By that I mean that
he really never had much good or friendly comment about
other people. I don't know what made Paul the way he was,
but he was always more tearing people, clawing people, and
not where he would build a person or try to develop or
encourage. That was not there. In fact, I think that was
a reason I had to leave, because to go in there on week-
ends or other times and not hear something where he would
be building, it becomes very tiring and frustrating, and
eventually I had to move.
WESCHLER: Do you think he was a powerful force in the
city besides with the people he dealt with?
ENGEL: I think he became very powerful.
WESCHLER: In what way?
ENGEL: Both as a dealer and also as a connoisseur, and
also I think people were beginning to trust him to recommend
paintings to buy. I think when he had his first big
[Ernst Ludwig] Kirchner show, I think that was practically
a sell-out. It was a big Kirchner show, and I think that
really set Paul up big. I think after that he became
somebody that serious collectors would talk to, ask him
advice. Eventually he became a legend practically, sometime
much later. Because if you look at him in a few years, a
comparatively few years, look where he's at. I mean he's
out there at Sotheby [ Parke Berne t] , buying Degas and
Cezanne drawings for collectors. He's had to, because
he bought two or three drawings which ran over a half
million dollars. So he's established himself.
WESCHLER: Was he as gruff with his collectors as he was
with everyone else?
ENGEL: I think he was in general, maybe until he found
out that there was something very lucrative there. Because
generally people would come in the gallery, and often they
left and said, "That's the last time, no more!" Oh yes.
And so this is what's interesting about him: he was that
difficult and rough, and still he maintained a presence
that grew into large importance.
WESCHLER: Do you have any particular anecdotes about things
he said, things that come to mind?
ENGEL: No, I don't have anything at the moment. But he had
a very good eye. He had a very good head and a good eye,
because I remember I think they went into hock to buy a
de Kooning and either a [Theodore] Stamos or a [William]
Baziotes. I mean, really, to go and borrow money from a
bank to buy those things, you've got to have some insight.
And this he had, because, after all, he came into the art
from the newspaper--he was writing for the cannery [workers
union] — and from that he moved into opening the gallery.
So, again, you see, you had that something that you can't
explain, and it was there. Because he put on the first
[Richard] Diebenkorn show.
WESCHLER: Was Josephine Kantor part of the operation
ENGEL: Yes, Josephine, his wife, was very much part of
the operation. In fact, this is a good story. [laughter]
We were up at one of his collectors. Josie had a habit of
getting kind of drunk, and when she got that way, she would
just say anything. I remember we were sitting at this bar
of this friend who had a lot of paintings from the Paul
Kantor Gallery, and Paul was just going on, talking about
art and all that stuff. And then he stopped, and Josie
just looked and said, "You fucking philosopher. That's
what you are, a fucking philosopher." [laughter] And it
was so funny, you know, because here we are sitting in
mixed company, and Josie — just pow [still laughing] blasting
him. At the same time it was very cute and very funny, but
it was so honest! I think she was a--what do you call?--
a sensitive person, very sensitive. It's again — Where
the hell did that come from? Because I remember when I
first met them they lived somewhere near Exposition [Park] ,
somewhere near the museum, and I think their room was not
much bigger than this, or maybe a little bigger. The
kitchen was that big. And they had one reproduction of a
Picasso on the wall. That was their total art, you know?
And yet at that time we were already going to galleries
together, you know what I mean?
ENGEL: And here's this one lousy reproduction of a Picasso
on the wall. The whole thing started with that.
WESCHLER: Why do you suppose he stayed in Los Angeles if
he had so much contempt for the local scene?
ENGEL: I think he went to New York, and he lived there and
all that. But in New York there's another type of human
being, and I think after about two or three years, I think
about two or three years, he came back. I think the way
people are out here, whatever that is, the chemistry was
just working better for him. He came back; he didn't like
New York. New York is quite different; I think you need
much more sophistication, and I think you — He had no
manners, you know, not really, and I think in New York
you've got to have that. He just didn't like the scene,
although he thought that would be for him, because by that
time he became a private dealer. It turned out to be not
the place for him. So there is a difference, a texture
difference between the New York crowd and what we have out
here, which is very primitive. And a lot of it is not
honest, this feeling for art — it's not really honest.
WESCHLER: You mean in New York?
ENGEL: No, here: it's not really honest. Not that you
don't have some; you do, you know. But we're talking
generalities. There are just some kinds of people who
just have to buy things because either it's going to make
them look important or because it costs a lot of money,
but it's not really to live with. Whereas in New York I
met a lot of people, and they love it, it's their life,
you know? They wouldn't let a painting go out of their
apartment, because it would be just like a child lost out
there someplace. That's something that's an honest, honest
love for art.
WESCHLER: Does it bother you when a work of yours is
bought by someone who you don't feel is going to really
ENGEL: Oh yes, yeah. In fact I have turned down a lot
of opportunities like that. Not even mentioning names,
but I remember some time back when this man wanted to buy
paintings from me, and I kept telling him, "You don't like
my work; you're gonna buy because I'm a friend, and that's
no good. That's absolutely no good." So I have a very
strong point of view on that.
WESCHLER: The other major dealer you had here was Esther
ENGEL: Esther Robles, yes. From Paul I went to Esther
Robles. They were very pleasant people, but I think my
work has not much simpatico. This kind of work that I was
always working with is kind of a hard-edged, almost
architectural approach. The simpatico is not really here.
It's never been really popular with a lot of people, let
me put it that way. But I think not much here either.
The Robles are very nice. They are people who are very
sweet and nice to be with, and they were very gentle people
and all that. But again, I don't know why they went into
the gallery — Because it was business, I guess, but that
other texture was missing again. Again the same thing
happened as with the others: you put up the exhibit and
it came down. You put up forty paintings, and the exhibit
is over, and it went in the back into the closet. You see,
again, there is no movement, there's no motion. It doesn't
have the professional presence like a New York dealer. A
New York dealer, when you have a show, they want to make
sure that this exhibit will go travel someplace, so they
call up people and say, "Come on in; I have something to
show you." There's a commitment. And again, you see, with
the Robles it was just putting it up and taking it down.
It always was like a dead end.
WESCHLER: Are there any dealers in Los Angeles that had
the kind of intensity that New York dealers have had over
ENGEL: I think maybe the best person was at one time Felix
Landau. I think Felix had that feeling. And then later on
this other fellow came, Blum, David Blum,
WESCHLER: Irving Blum.
ENGEL: Irving Blum. But by that time I think the whole
scene — See, then, it took on a whole different character.
By then people were New York-wise, and all of a sudden that
thing that had never ocurred to us before now began to take
the scene; all that is important, you know. But I think
Felix, because he was before Irving Blum, he had that some-
thing, you felt that. But Irving Blum, I think, was the
first one who was really working on that way. But then,
you see, the whole scene changed, the whole art scene. Art
became important. You became a celebrity all of a sudden.
Art meant big money. And now the publications were beginning
to come out from New York. Now you have Stella and Noland
and Jasper Johns coming on the scene; and all of a sudden,
it explodes. So I'm using the experience of New York-wise,
of knowing that you have to go there. Whereas when I had
exhibits at the Whitney Museum or at the Chicago Art Institute,
we would never think of going there, to be there, you know?
But see, then it changed, when you realized, you've got to
be there, I mean you have to go. So you see what took
place. That took place. That's why so often you hear
people say, "Nothing happened here before 1960." A lot of
things happened here, but what happened was very naive, and
very simple, and very honest. But it changed. And then
you realized that oh-oh, oops, you made a mistake, you
should have gone to Chicago [laughter] , you should have
gone to New York when you were at the Whitney.
WESCHLER: You did go back to New York.
ENGEL: Oh much later, but not when I first was exhibiting
WESCHLER: Was it partly the pressure of this need to be
in New York that made you go back?
ENGEL: No, later on I wanted to go back. I realized the
changes, the necessity, that it had to be, you had to go
back. If you had an exhibit, you should be there at least
ten days before so you had a chance to meet the people.
Also, the New York dealers function different, because
they introduce you, they give you dinner parties, whereas
here those things didn't happen.
WESCHLER: How about actually working in New York? Was
it important to do art in New York, as opposed to Los
ENGEL: Oh, I really don't think so. I think if you go
back there and you stay a couple of weeks and you have a
chance to view and talk to people, I think then you can do
it anyplace. I think then the further you go away some-
place, the better off you are: you can then be quiet and
be on your own. Because New York can be very nice by
going to so many places. Your phone rings at eight in the
morning, and you get invited, and there it is. No, I think
you can work anyplace; I can work anyplace, I know that.
But it's good to go, to see. It's very important to see,
it just gives you that extra something that you would never
WESCHLER: So you would recommend to your students here,
for instance, that it's important for them to go back to
ENGEL: Oh yeah. I tell my students to go back to New York
and look at things. But then if you go back, see every-
thing, go and see plays, go and see dance concerts. That's
the big difference, I think; they go today, and they under-
stand. Maybe it's easier to travel today than it was then;
today's students, they go to Europe. Well, twenty, twenty-
five years ago, you couldn't really see high school kids
just pack up and go to Europe. But today they do.
WESCHLER: Do you miss the naivete, the innocence of Los
Angeles in the fifties at all? Are there things that are
lost that you're sad to see gone?
ENGEL: Well, I think it's just like growing up: When
you're a child, you function as a child, you know. [phone
TAPE NUMBER: VII, SIDE TWO
APRIL 1, 1978
ENGEL: [l was] just commenting on my coming into the world
of painting and so early into the world of what is pure
nonobjective, and from that moving onto what became my
world of imagery, with the hard-edged, geometrical, archi-
tectural construction. I think what is important here,
because almost all the painters or people who set the trend —
I mean, you take a man like Kandinsky, who came to his way
of painting, which is nonobjective, through a process of
elimination. He was painting and then he came to this idea,
especially this one point where he came home one night, and
a painting was upside down, and the room was dark, and he
realized that he had images there that were working without
the content. And also then you take Kupka, one of the early
ones, who again came to work into nonobjective world
through a process of first working at all other ideas.
And fairly recently after the cubists, there was a trend,
a direction, or Mondrian set a direction. But I never had
that approach, I never had that process. I think, therefore,
I could be classified as some kind of primitive. Because
my background was always —
Well, when I was living back in Budapest as a child,
[my exposure] was purely classical as far as seeing things.
We went to the museum on Sundays and saw nothing but the
classics, the Rubenses, the Rembrandts, the Titians, and
that world. Of course, I was, you know, early, I mean,
twelve, thirteen years old. But later, in high school,
here, I started to have an idea, again, which is the mystery.
The idea was, why couldn't I just put a line or two lines
on a piece of paper and it would become a painting, it
would become a piece of art? A reason I mention this is
because, see, I'd never seen any abstractions or anything
of its kind, but the mind was already telling or pointing
the way of there must be other directions, there must be
other ways, there must be a new visual world, so there also
must be new discoveries. And for that there is absolutely
no answer why at that early time in my life, never been
shown or seen, been exposed to this kind of painting, and
yet there I am in high school and I'm working with the
squares, the triangles, and the lines.
WESCHLER: And this is in the middle of Illinois.
ENGEL: Evans ton.
WESCHLER: Evanston, Illinois.
ENGEL: And what was interesting was that there was a
teacher who I don't think she really knew what the hell
I was doing, but she let me just go ahead on that terrain
and she never said no. So when other people were handing
in trees and nudes and still lifes, I would hand in
drawings of lines, and lots of circles and squares.
WESCHLER: What year was this about?
ENGEL: Around 1938, you see, '37, '38. And she never
resented or stopped me from doing that. But there I was
doing this kind of ideas, and the concept was simply,
why must a drawing be something that you look at? And that
was just — That came from the gut, you see. That came
from the head, as I say, without any previous process of
going through a certain kind of painting development and
arriving to that. So that is where it all started. One
interesting experience I can recall now — it's more inter-
esting now than it was then, then it was meaningless — is
when I saw an automobile for the first time that there I
really was taken with it and it stopped me cold. It was
the front of a Rolls-Royce. Because it had the square
and the straight lines. I looked at it, and I said,
"This is a beautiful automobile." I knew nothing about
automobiles, I couldn't care less. And yet that shape
struck me as something very exciting. So this is that
small texture that once sometime you hang on and you say,
"How come you didn't respond to the curves or the Venus
or all the other borrowed things you find in Middle Europe?"
This was the only thing I responded to, was this square
nose. At that age, you see.
So then, later, when I was putting these ideas on
paper, I was very much alone. I wouldn't even show this
stuff to people because I felt that was so strange, or
weird, that people would just not have any simpatico with
that kind of world, painting, or drawing world. Then, of
course, I kept that going purely instinctive and not even
what you call any kind of a hard intellectualization . But
all of a sudden this idea of a straight line became — A
feeling of hard-edged, architectural was something that
became part of me. And I kept working with that. Then,
of course, when I realized later that there was a Kandinsky,
then I felt, let's say, a little more comfortable with the
idea that in a sense I was not alone, that these things
have been in motion with other people doing it. But at
that time, I think it was around 19 40 when I first saw a
Kandinsky exhibit in Los Angeles, by that time, and then
I realized that he was on the right track and there is
nothing strange about it. There's nothing weird. And it's
around us. So naturally then nothing stops you, and you
feel that you are right.
WESCHLER: Much later there was in Los Angeles a whole
group which was called a hard-edged group, the "[Four]
Abstract Classicists" show at the L.A. County Museum [in
1959] , for example — Lorser Feitelson, Karl Benjamin, John
McLaughlin, for instance. Did you have any particular
simpatico with them personally?
ENGEL: Well, I had exhibits way before that. I had a first
exhibit in 19 45, a one-man exhibit of geometrical, hard-
edged painting. That was way before Benjamin or any of
these people who are doing anything like that. Way before
Feitelson was doing anything like that. So actually they
came on the scene much, much later.
WESCHLER: When they did come on the scene, did you converse
with them, or did you work with them at all?
ENGEL: Well, I knew Feitelson very well. But Feitelson
still was not working in that direction. Feitelson still
was not working in that direction. Feitelson was still
working with like a head of an ox, you know, with surrealist
dimensions. So he wasn't working in that way at all. I
was the only one in that scene. And of course, Frederick
Kahn, who no one knew and knows, who had a gallery on
Sunset Boulevard. He was a hard-edge, geometrical painter,
a very sweet kind of painting world. He had an art school
later on Melrose, where now you have [Cafe] Figaro. So he
was there. The only other person at that time was Fischinger.
And with Fischinger I had an exhibit. But Karl Benjamin
came on much later and Feitelson, much much later.
WESCHLER: How about John McLaughlin?
ENGEL: John McLaughlin was on the scene, but I think he
also came after, I'm pretty sure, came after '45, '46,
or '47. But it was already then an introduction that other
people of Los Angeles were working that terrain. Of course.
McLaughlin's work for me was a little too close — It's
not Mondrian, but it's a little of that terrain, the
incredible simplicity and a feeling of space on the canvas.
WESCHLER: Did you know these people personally? McLaughlin?
ENGEL: Yes, I knew him, but just in as far as meeting him
at the gallery, because he was then quite an elderly
gentleman. I always admired his work, and I felt that
he was something very special in Los Angeles. Karl Benjamin,
also. I knew Karl because he was showing with the Esther
Robles Gallery where I was showing. And I think he had
some very good work going then. I don't really know when
Feitelson started his first hard-edged paintings. But
when I had my first exhibit in the city, no one was working
WESCHLER: Did you feel left out of the "Abstract Classicist"
show? It's striking that you weren't included in it.
ENGEL: I think the reason was because, if I remember well,
I think maybe I was in Paris then. I was not in Los
Angeles. I'm pretty sure. That's when that thing came
on. Because also the word "hard-edge" was initiated by
Jules Langsner, you know. And Langsner knew me well. But
I don't think I was in the city. I think that happened
when I was away in Paris. Even now, or lately, when you
have exhibits like that, or they're talking about it, it's
very seldom that I get mentioned. Because, now, the 1949
Chicago national show, which was called "Abstract and
Surrealist American Art"-- That was Mrs. [Katharine] Kuh
who was then director of the museum. She invited me. She
saw my painting which was very hard-edgey but small shaped
and very structured. That was in there, and that was in
1949. But I think after that, something happened. Maybe
because I left. Or maybe because I was also in love with
films, like UPA, I felt there was a resentment there.
WESCHLER: How so?
ENGEL: Because I was involved in films.
WESCHLER: Who resented it?
ENGEL: Well, we don't want to put it in print. Feitelson,
I think. Because Feitelson was quite a champion of mine
at the earlier stage. I'm going around 1946-47. He was
quite a champion of mine. Let's say he was an elderly
gentleman, and he was promoting me or recommended me. But
I think the thing came about that I was working in films.
At that time that whole area had a very bad taste if you
worked in films; and I think I was really then sort of
pushed aside or left out.
WESCHLER: So you were thought of as an animator who also
occasionally dabbled in painting, as opposed to —
ENGEL: Yes. But it was more [than] that, because I had
an exhibit practically one every two years. Always with
at least thirty or forty paintings. But continuously. And
was showing in international shows, American shows, you
know. So I was working all the time. It's just that some
people can do that and some can't. I think all it really
takes is a kind of energy that some of us have. You know
how people go home at five o'clock and they say, "I'm beat."
Well, I never had that feeling. I was able to work, you
know, maybe twenty hours a day, and maybe have four or
five hours of sleep.
WESCHLER: When were you doing your painting? Specifically,
what times of days would you be coming in to work?
ENGEL : Well, I would be doing paintings anytime of the
day or nights, or early mornings. My best time was always
early mornings. In other words, if I start a painting at
six o'clock in the morning, you know, and go till nine
o'clock, for me, that sometimes was enough. Because I
don't work, I never did work all day on things. I could
only work maybe half a day. The rest of it would be maybe
sketching or thinking or doing other things. But it's
just the way you're put together that you can manage that,
and a lot of people can't. I don't understand. I've no
answer for all that.
WESCHLER: We've talked about the origins of your painting
and your imagery, and we've talked about its reception
here in Los Angeles. Can you just give us a general over-
view of some of the major themes that you've worked on in
painting? Also, perhaps chronologically, what phases of
your painting would be important to think about?
ENGEL: I think the early part would be the terrain where
I would call discovery. Of discovering things: shapes,
forms, sizes, the characteristics of the canvas, the edge of
the canvas, you know, all that. I think the first years
was that. The quality of paint, and how it sits on the
canvas. And the raw canvas, working on the gesso board.
And then I got more and more involved working with gouache.
Again, it's a terrain of discovery. But primarily, it was
always a sense of putting structures on the canvas. I
could never really get involved talking about edges, because,
what the hell, you're locked into a canvas anyway, and
you have the edge. So I couldn't see making a big deal
out of that space. You have a sense of construction, of
depth, or foreground ideas. All that I think was part of
my thinking. Primarily a feeling of getting depth with
color, that is the terrain of thinking. Or the other one
is to put these hard, straight lines, edges. Because for
me, I always felt that the straight line, the really straight,
is the most civilized thing there is. That is really,
truly an invention of a civilization, the straight line.
And I think that goes back to architecture, the straight
line. Because nature is full of curves, you know, very
baroque, very beautiful. But if you see a landscape, then
you see a house in it, one house, and that house has an
edge, that's your straight line. And that is done by
human being. That's a man creates that. Now, I don't
know if I'm not going to be way off here, but I remember
when I saw Stanley Kubrick's 2001, is that it?
WESCHLER: Right, 2001.
ENGEL: I realized one thing. At the very beginning you
have an incredible landscape which is all curves. Then
those monkeys or whatever; again they are full of that,
curves. Now what was that thing that frightened them? It
was a straight line. That shape that came into their
landscape frightened the hell out of them. Now, it's
interesting that no one ever commented on this. But
that was the only shape that a human being can make. That's
civilization. Whether it's good or bad is not the point.
The point is that that straight line is the most civilized
kind of gesture or comment. Maybe that is something that
appealed to me. Because if you go to an other terrain
which is a curved line, which is a sensuous world, maybe
that wasn't my world. Although often when I had exhibits,
let's say with that kind of structural thing, or like this
one — [points to a work]
WESCHLER: What's this called here?
ENGEL: That's The Roman Windows , that's Rome. And still
on that the critics were commenting, although I worked with
that kind of structure, still there is a kind of sensuality
in these paintings.
WESCHLER: Which also comes out later on in some of your
animations. You get curved lines and so forth.
ENGEL : Yes. And I'm very aware when I work with a curved
line in that world that I am in this other terrain which
is the terrain of the sensuous. I often like to contrast
that with the straight lines, which stand as the pure
intellect, the most civilized pieces of creation, the straight
WESCHLER: It's interesting that you bring this up, because
I've often, looking at the things in this room while we've
interviewed, particularly some of these lithographs-- What
is this one called here?
ENGEL: That's New York Rhythms .
WESCHLER: Well, some of these other ones, and then also
The Roman Windows , are really architectonic in a sense. I
mean, really New York Rhythms reads like buildings at one
level, even though it's just black and white shapes.
ENGEL: I think it would be then a natural thing because
the only thing that attracts me are the cities. I love
the cities. I love New York; I love those tall buildings.
The only place that I can really relax is when I go to New
York; that to me is relaxation. If I have to go to Hawaii,
places like that, I would go just out of my head. I can't
relax there. I can relax in a city, and it fascinates me.
WESCHLER: What makes you relax in the city? What about
ENGEL : Just the presence, just the very presence and the
environment that I'm walking around in. I mean the streets,
the length of the streets, the buildings, that fascinates
me. It gives me a sense of well-being.
Another interesting thing with the straight line for
me, always has been, is now when you have a straight line,
a straight line is full of possibilities.
WESCHLER: How so?
ENGEL: Because everything starts there. The minute I
bend a straight line, I'm already committing myself to a
direction or to an action or to a movement. So when there
is a straight line, I can look at it as the most forceful
and the most active part of a composition, because of what
could happen there. Everything else in the scene is
committed already, except that straight line. Now, I
might even go a strange direction. For instance, [Rudolf]
Nureyev comes on the stage in the middle of a dance scene
and he stops and he stands still: that to me is often the
most exciting moment, because of the expectation of what
will happen now. The minute he moves, he's in motion, the
commitment is already there. And although it is very
interesting and exciting, the commitment is there and you're
in motion and the expectation is now, already, left behind.
Now, I am paralleling these things with the straight line
because I haven't heard much comments on that aspect of
it in this character . So when people see straight lines
and say, "There is no movement," and stuff like that, I
don't think they understand what the possibility is, what
WESCHLER: What it contains.
ENGEL: What it contains, yes.
WESCHLER: Certainly another element besides, just looking
at some of the things in your room here, besides the level
of the straight line and the civilized form is your pig-
ments and so forth which are more parallel to your animation.
For example, I'm looking at the lithograph you did at
Tamarind over there, and that is kind of almost an animation
on a single — There's so much action and so much movement,
ENGEL: Yes. It's called Red Poppies, it's a Tamarind
print. Again you have all that action, but at the same
time you have these very hard edges. The structures, which
could be a building, if you want to read that into it, but
that holds everything somehow down and everything else is
just moving about.
WESCHLER: Tremendously dynamically.
ENGEL: Yes. But again, I need that terrain that I can
work around. This kind of thing that settles down and,
pow, puts a strong presence on a canvas. But at the very
beginning, when I did work at Tamarind, I didn't know the
technique, or I didn't know the mechanics, so I went into
terrain which was very loose, because I just didn't know
what to do with the medium. It was sometime much later
when I went back that I did things that were much more
related to my thinking and feeling. But it's a natural
thing, I think, when you go into a new process is that you
work another terrain.
Another thing is when you work in a new terrain or
you want to create new dimensions and you're looking for
things and you want to create new visual forms: I think
it's very important to realize that often you come to
that terrain if you throw away all the material that you
worked with before. In other words, if you realize that
Jackson Pollock became a Pollock because he threw the brush
away, that's very important. If he stayed with the brush,
the drips would never have come about. So it's not always
that continuity from one painting to another. No, he just
threw the brush away. [Pierre] Soulages did the same thing,
[Franz] Kline in a sense did the same thing; it's not as
obvious as Pollock. But if you realize the important thing
was the man threw the brush away and whatever he picked up
to work with, a new world of images was born, you see?
That's a very simple statement, and yet people have not
commented on that. It's simple. Let's say if you came
to a studio and you wanted to do something, and you said
"Oh, damn it, I left my brushes home," but you got to do
something, you know? So you pick up something and you
work with that; that's very important. That's what happened,
Now, again, today you see the painters are picking up their
brushes because they're going back into magic realism,
stuff like that. What are they using? They're using the
brush, you see?
WESCHLER: Going back to what we've talked about, the early
stages of your work, I'm again trying to get a sense
chronologically what different phases you're concerned
with. We talked about a period of discovering. How did
that evolve? What became the next phase of your work?
ENGEL: Well, in that world I think I was a bit in limbo.
Sometimes you are locked into some ideas and you have a
difficult time giving it up, which sometimes can be tragic.
So I was working very loose for a while. Maybe that lasted
for three or four years.
WESCHLER: What general period is this?
ENGEL: That would be before I started going back to my
hard-edge; that was before '62. It's something that you
have to do. At that time, there's no control. All you
know is that you have to do something that although you
don't like it, but you do it. It's almost a kind of getting
rid of a lot of bad thinking. They were very loose, very
emotional paintings, and stuff like that, but I had to do
that. I think I just wanted to get rid of something. And
then, all of a sudden I just, boom, went back to what I
was before and where I am today, the very disciplined
structure, as you call it, the architectonic approach.
WESCHLER: Is that, for example, these paintings here?
ENGEL: Yes. I think at that time I took off for Europe
and Rome, and there it was again, you see, the city, the
big city. I think if I have maybe a thing here, I think
in California I was getting in a sense too California-like.
WESCHLER: What does that mean?
ENGEL: That means that the vegetation, the green — You
know, we had no high-rises, no Century City. That maybe
had some influence; that's why I went on that terrain.
But the minute I dropped into Rome, and I was in the city,
then to Paris, then the right feeling came back. Maybe
it's a clue also, because the stuff was very landscapish
at that time. I think I have some slides someplace, but
I don't have any actual paintings. But the minute I hit
Rome and I saw the buildings, then I knew where I had to
go. And then of course Paris. And then of course spending
more time in New York. I felt that I am now what I should
be, you know? This idea of what you should be is sometimes
very difficult to explain. But you have sometimes no
choice. But again, in the city, you're back into civili-
zation, because the only place that anything ever happens
or comes to a lot of consequence is always in a city. It
never really happens in the suburbs. The beginning is
always in the city, the important events. Then later on,
when artists are well-fed and comfortable, then they go
to the South of France. They still work, but that's
WESCHLER: Given your need to be in cities and so forth,
why do you live in Los Angeles, which is the least city
like of cities.
ENGEL: Well, it's the least citylike. Because I think
eventually you get accustomed to the climate. It's
very comfortable, and it gives you physically — It's a
good thing. Also because I always made my living, which is
a very big factor, here.
WESCHLER: In animation.
ENGEL: In animation, yes. In animation, but in the
thinking terrain of the film. Because if I lived in New
York, I'm sure I would see every play, because I like that
art world. But it was the film, the film texture was
here. I was interested in film fairly early, so naturally
you came here. And then, after a while, the climate and
everything seduces you, hooks you, and you live here.
But every year I have been out of Los Angeles in either
Paris, Rome, London, or New York, but always New York,
every year I go back.
WESCHLER: Do you get kind of your creative energy from
those trips and then you bring it back here? Or do you
now have an independent source of creativity here, too?
ENGEL: No, I think I have an independent source, because
eventually you must have that, it's got to come from inside.
But going to those other places, it generates and helps it
to grow and get healthy and well. I think that's a very
important thing for an artist, whether you're a painter,
whether you're a writer, or a musician, you must travel,
you must travel. But New York has always been an incredible
source of inspiration for me. Or any city. I only go to
big cities when I'm in Europe; I just don't enjoy villages
or other places.
WESCHLER: One of the things I was going to say is that
the Coaraze film, although it does take place in a small
town, emphasized the citylike aspects of that town, the
lines, the walls.
ENGEL: The doorways. You see, there is your square--the
windows, the steps — there are all your straight lines. So
the visual structure that I've taken in there from my
painting is in character.
WESCHLER: That brings up the question of what the
relationship is between your painting, your lithography,
and your animation. Do you find that you're working on
essentially the same kinds of things? For instance, the
period from any given year, are you working similar issues
in both? Or do you reserve certain kinds of issues for
your animation, and certain kinds of issues for your
ENGEL: Well, I do think that I have taken more from the
painting world into the film that I've been doing, I
would say, during the last twelve years, rather than the
other way. Because actually when you work on a film,
you're dealing with spaces, and infinite space. When
you work on a canvas, then you're always locked into that
size of that shape. Now, you're also locked into that
screen, that box, but I can move to the right or to the
left, I can move north and south. I can show you more
space, and all of a sudden you discover that my right side
is endless, and my left side is endless on the screen,
ENGEL: So that's a big difference. And also it has
space around it, it has space in front of it, behind it.
Whereas a canvas is just it. So I do think that maybe the
inventions of my head go into the painting and then go into
the film. But I can enlarge it. I can enlarge on this
character of the shape of form or size on the screen,
you see, because I have an infinite canvas there.
WESCHLER: Do you find that you first work images in
painting that a year later begin to show up on the screen?
Does it go that direction?
ENGEL: Oh, yes. Often I have sketches, hundreds some-
times, and eventually they make their presence felt or
seen in abstract film. Because when we are talking
animation, we have to realize that we're talking about
painting in motion. But it's very seldom that I get much
from that world into the painting world. I can take a
lot more to the screen, because the screen is so new. It's
only — what? — sixty, seventy years old. Whereas in the
world of painting you're dealing with four or five hundred
years. And also we're dealing with giants in the world
of painting. Whereas in film we have no giants. It's
empty, it's an empty canvas.
WESCHLER: Recently your film things are beginning to show
up on gallery walls, or at least on the walls here. You're
showing me this idea that you have of taking some of the
sketches from your animations--
ENGEL: I think what's happening is that the painters
today who've discovered film all of a sudden are beginning
to come to that idea, that they can take that onto a
gallery wall. And they're doing it a lot in photography
also. There's ten photos —
WESCHLER: A sequence of photos.
ENGEL: And I think that's where the film has been a very
large influence on the painters and definitely on the
still photographers. Whereas I think that I would still
prefer to go the other way, because the opportunity there
is enormous, it's endless. Space is endless.
WESCHLER: Well, looking ahead generally, to your next
phase of activity, do you see yourself spending more time
with animation or more time with painting? Or is it
roughly the same?
ENGEL: I think it's a question of energy, of how much
you have left. Also sometimes you move from one to the
other for relaxation.
WESCHLER: How does that work?
ENGEL: It works in such a way that if I work on several
abstract films I can get very tired of the process, and
going back into painting is much more relaxing. Also
because I'm not involved with mechanics. I'm not involved
with a lab. I'm not involved with the projector. I'm not
involved of having a dubbing session. So in film you have
all those other mechanical characteristics, so that going
back to painting and drawing is very relaxing, because also
the result is immediate. I don't have to wait three days
to get it back from the lab; it's very important, and therefore
it's very relaxing.
WESCHLER: That sounds particularly impressive in light
of your work now towards the [1978 Los Angeles] Filmex
retrospective, which has you so involved in working on
film. You sound like you need relaxation.
ENGEL: Yes. And people don't realize that when you
finish drawing, then you have to go and have it shot, then
you have to wait to have it come back. You have an
incredible lot of mechanical process in film art and often
you don't know where you're at. Because a lot of stuff
came back from the labs recently all ruined, full of dirt,
full of little snow drops, or it looks like snow. What
do you do? You have to sometimes draw the whole damn
thing over. So you have a lot of terrain where--how can
I say?--you're on the edge, because you don't know. It
can happen even when you have, a good dubbing session, and
the music comes back, and something is wrong someplace.
That's the magic of painting, that's why you want to go
back to it. Because you see it in front of you, it's
there and it's yours, it's totally yours. You don't have
credit for photographer, you don't have credit for mixer,
you don't have credit for anybody else. You just sign a
painting and it belongs to you. It's very important to do
that for me, because although the other work is mine, still
there are a lot of other people that I have to rely on and
a lot of other people are involved. You want to get away
from that, you really do.
WESCHLER: What kind of painting imagery are you dealing
with these days particularly? What are some of your most
recent paintings like?
ENGEL: Well, my very recent ones, like that one —
WESCHLER: What's that called?
ENGEL: Let's see, they were called Landscape, just Landscape,
and that's the last one, the last terrain of painting. I
had about two dozen, and then I had others that grew out
of that. But then again, if I would start tomorrow, I
would still hold onto this kind of structure, but it would
not be that.
WESCHLER: Can you describe the structure for people?
ENGEL: Well, this is what people refer to as the grid.
But again, the way I use the color there, it's really
color fields. They are color fields, playing one against
WESCHLER: It's almost a harmonic effect.
ENGEL: Yes, but see, that red still pops. It takes a
position next to the other colors, but at the same time,
all the other colors hold a position with that color. It's
a very structured, what people refer to as a grid, although
I never think of it in that way. At the same time, there's
a touch of film in there, because if you move, you can move
from one shape to another, and there's a continuity there
also. So today that aspect of thinking begins to creep
into paintings of mine and at the same time it still holds
onto the city character, the straight line. Some people
might read windows in that, you know. But that's their
problem. I never work with that really, in mind. But
what was important to me is the color relations, they're
very subtle and it's one note. Not quite —
WESCHLER: Like the Tamarind piece, the Red Poppies?
ENGEL: Yes, yeah.
WESCHLER: Well, this has been very exciting. Are there
any other notions on painting that you would want to talk
about before we close?
ENGEL: Well, I think at the moment it's very complicated,
because this idea of going back to magic realism and stuff
like that that's going on, I think that's something that
will never really work. You can't go back. There's no
way that you can go back. Art is like a river, you know,
you put your foot in it, take it out, and you put it back,
and the water is not the same. It's very much like that.
You can't. And it's sad, for me it's very sad to see
these people trying to do that. You can't. And it's
pretty bad, it's pretty bad stuff. So I just have to see
if I can really get hold of something which is tomorrow,
which is things in motion, and still have something of that
in the world of painting without all the futurists,
without doing Nude Descending [A Staircase]. But that's
also interesting, because I think Duchamp, when he painted
Nude Descending, I don't think he was aware but I think he
was already doing something which dealt with space in time.
Because for that thing to come down, that was time and that
was in space. I don't think that people were aware, but
he was doing that.
WESCHLER: He was anticipating animation.
ENGEL: Yes! He was anticipating almost the film. Because
if I take a group of drawings of mine and put it in the
light box as I function as the animator, I would get that.
In fact, if that existed in his time as accurately as it
exists today, I doubt very much if he would have done that.
But it's interesting to go back to Duchamp 's Nude Descending,
which is pure animation, that somebody was doing that, but
again not being aware. You just do it, you see. Just
like I came on these ideas that it must be a drawing that
doesn't relate to anything that you look at. I had no
preconceived intellectual thinking there. And yet he was
doing that. As you say, he was prophesying possibilities
of that. But at that time he was not aware that it's
possible. So somewhere there-- See, I'm going back there
to see what's there that relates to today because of the
motion of film and to see where I can tie the two together.
WESCHLER: Are you hopeful for painting now?
ENGEL: Oh, I think so.
WESCHLER: You have despair for magic realism and so forth,
but do you generally feel--
ENGEL: No, I think magic realism is here, but it's a kind
of a — Maybe the galleries are frantic and they have to
do something. But you can't do that, because so many of
those just look like retouched photos. There's nothing
wrong with retouched photos, but it's that. There's no
WESCHLER: But you think there's room for a young painter
starting out today to find a voice that isn't — Some
people say that all possibilities have been used up, that
there's no more room for somebody to start out. You don't
feel that way?
ENGEL: No, I don't feel that way at all. I think possibilities
are always there. It just depends. The right person will
come. But I think it's there. Of course, it's a little
more difficult than it would have been two hundred years
ago. That's why maybe the film is so exciting for the
painter, because he doesn't find any Picasso, there's no
Matisses, no Braques, there's nothing. So that is why that
terrain is so exciting. Whereas the painter has this
incredible background, tradition.
WESCHLER: The weight of history.
ENGEL: The weight of history, all that. And he bucks
that; he looks at it. Whereas in a film, where I'm doing
work, I'm working, there's nothing. I can set a whole
new avenue or boulevard that's not walked on. But I still
feel that the painting or the graphic art has its place.
It's got to have its place, and it will continue. Maybe
today is a time when we look things over in the world of
painting, sort of settling down. Because we had this
enormous upheaval with de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Gottlieb,
Rothko. Maybe there's a kind of a simmering now. But no
magic realism: that will not do it! [laughter]
Adains, Clinton, 217, 222
Alley, Alvin, 60, 87
Albers, Josef, 72, 234
Antreasian, Garo, 217, 222
Arizona (magazine), 5
Arnstrong, John, 180-81
Arts et Me tiers Graphigues,
Babbit, Art, 20
Bakshi, Ralph, 187-88
Ballet Russe de Monte
Carlo, 11-12, 18-19
Bamb i . See Disney, Walt,
Bass, Saul, 34
Bauhaus school, 60
Bay, Hillary, 252
Bazilon, Irving, 193, 196
Baziotes, William, 265
Bechtold, Elizabeth, 187
Beckett, Adam, 102, 168,
Belson, Jordan, 144
Benjamin, Karl, 276-78
Benkes, Brenda, 188
Bergman, Ingmar, 130-31
Berrocal, Miguel, 201-4,
Bill, Max, 208-10
Blair, Lee, 39
Blanchard, Rick, 180
Blau, Herb, 89, 153, 154
Blum, Irving, 270
Bogatirev, Wikolaj, 115
Borenstein, Joyce, 179-80,
Borowczyk, Walerian, 44
Bradbury, Ray, 215-16
Breer, Robert, 144
Brice, William, 53-54,
Burchfield, Charles, 72
California Institute of the
Arts, 79-92, 101-4,
-history of, 89-92, 153-
-students at, 102, 157-
Cannon, Robert, 36-37, 76-
Chaplin, Charles, 38, 241
Chorus Line, 2 4 4-45
Cirrus Editions, 229, 233-
Citizen Kane, 238
Codrick, Thomas, 22, 25
Comsky, Cynthia, 208
Comsky Gallery, 208-9
Corrigan, Robert, 90, 153-
Cremean, Robert, 207, 234
Cunningham, Merce, 88, 113,
David, Tisa, 189
Davis, Stuart, 72
Delaunay, Sonia, 176
Demeier, Paul, 180
Dickson, Anita, Academy of
Diebenkorn, Richard, 266
Dike, Phil, 21, 39, 48
Disney, Walt, 22-23, 26-27,
28-29, 37-38, 44, 51
Disney, V'Jalt, Studios, 16-
27, 34-44, 47-53,
67-68, 73, 75-76,
138-40, 143-47. See
Oskar ; Lebrun, Rico
-approach to animation,
30, 36-43, 47-49, 51,
67-68, 73, 75-76, 139
-films produced by:
-Bambi, 22-25, 40, 42,
-Dumbo, 4 3
-Fantasia, 16-25, 4 9-50
-Peter Pan, 4 2
-Pinochio, 4 2-43
-Toot, VJhistle, Plunk
and Boom, 4 2
-Snow White, 42, 49, 5 2
Dryer, Ivan, 224-25, 228
Duchamp, Marcel, 88, 297
Dufy, Raoul, 69-71
Durst, Eric, 169, 175, 180
Eggeling, Viking, 114
in, 7-11, 14-15, 21, 59,
247-50, 252-56, 273-76
-California Institute of
the Arts, teaching
position at, 79-88, 100-
-color, use of, 18-21,
22, 25-26, 50-51, 71-74,
106, 117-18, 122-23,
193, 200, 202, 295
-dance influences on
work, 9, 11-12, 15, 17,
18, 84, 94, 107, 111-12,
126, 238, 258, 261
-Disney Studios, work at,
17-23, 25-26, 34-35,
47, 49-50, 73, 138-40,
-dramatic influences on
work, 28, 205-6, 238-39,
-films, animation, 18-
26, 49-50, 71-74, 83-
84, 92-93, 105-30,
-Rumble, 12 2-26
-Shapes and Gestures,
-Three Arctic Flowers,
-Train Landscape, 10 5-7,
-Wet Paint, 115
-films, live-action, 130-
-American Sculpture of
the Sixties, 2 28
-Coaraze, 130-35, 206
-Ivory Knife, The, 191-
-Light Motion, 207-8
-Look of a Lithographer,
-Max Bill, 208-10
-New York 100, 206-7
-Torch and the Torso,
The, 201-5, 206, 211
-Homage to David Smith,
-New York Facade, 2 3 5
-Red Poppies, 28 5, 29 6
-painterly influences on
films, 5, 8, 59-60, 67-
73, 80, 92-93, 191-92,
198, 243, 256, 291-93,
-paintings, 5, 7, 58-59,
60-61, 96, 105, 122,
-Landscape , 29 5
-New York Rhythms, 283
-Roman Windows, The, 28 2
-UPA, work at, 30, 31-
37, 56, 67-77
Experimental Animation (by
Robert Russett and
Cecile Starr) , 162
Falkenstein, Claire, 207
Fantasia . See Disney,
VJalt, Studios--f ilms
Feitelson, Lorser, 276-79
-commercial pressures and
restrictions, 38-39, 44,
67. 132-35, 146-48
-comparisons v>?ith other
graphic arts, 41, 63-65,
75, 87, 92-93, 114, 135,
197, 201, 206, 236-41,
243, 258-62, 279, 289-93
performing arts, 113-14,
197, 205-6, 244-45
-conflict between art and
business, 15-22, 28-29,
38-43, 49, 51, 132, 135,
138, 146, 279
-future trends in, 63-65,
84-86, 94-100, 128, 243-
34-35, 83, 144, 149
Fischinger, Elfriede, 148
Fischinger, Oskar, 44, 48,
58, 138-46, 148,
242, 253, 277
Fitzpatrick, Robert, 182
Fontana, Lucio, 121
Ford Foundation, 219
Garbutt, Bernard, 24
Gemini, Graphic Editions
Gerald McBoing Boing. See
of America (UPA)
Goldman, Steve, 112
Graham, Martha, 60, 126,
Griffith, D.W., 27, 29
Grossman, Clara, 56, 142-43
Hannah, Jack, 151
Hofmann, Hans, 72
Holland, Steve, 181
Hopper, Edward, 7 2
Horak, Bohuslav, 216
Hubley, John, 30-37, 47,
Hultberg, John, 206
Hurtz, Bill, 30, 32, 36, 67
Jackson, Martha, 191, 194-
95, 199, 206
Jackson, Martha, Gallery,
Jenkins, Paul, 191-99, 204
Jepson, Herbert, 54
Jepson Art Institute, 54
Johns, Jasper, 229-33, 270
Julian, Paul, 56
Kaftan, Niki, 164-65, 180,
Kahn, Frederick, 277
Kandinsky, Wassilly, 14-15,
18, 22, 31, 67, 249,
251-52, 273, 276
Kantor, Josephine, 266
Kantor, Paul, 262-67
Kelly, Ellsworth, 58, 234
Kepes, Gyorgy, 60
Kimball, Ward, 155
Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig, 264
Kirkland, Mark, 180
Kirkwood, Jane, 81, 187
Klee, Paul, 18, 67, 72, 251
Kline, Franz, 122, 286
Klynn, Herb, 30, 32-37, 56,
71, 77, 142
Kosa, Emil, Jr . , 39
Kubrick, Stanley, 282
Kuh, Katherine, 279
Kupka, Frantisek, 249, 251,
Kuri, Yoji, 171
Landau, Felix, 269
Landau, Felix, Gallery, 56,
Langsner, Jules, 278
Leaf, Caroline, 187
Lebrun, Rico, 23-24, 52-55
Leger, Fernand, 67, 72, 176
Lenica, Jan, 44
Levine, Stan, 106, 117
Levy, Don, 101
LoRiva, Rudy, 30
Los Angeles--art galleries
and museums, 45-46,
53-56, 142-43, 207-
9, 262-71, 276-78.
See also Comsky
Clara; Kantor, Paul;
Gallery; Los Angeles
County Museum of
Art- Robles, Esther,
-role in promoting Los
Angeles as an art
center, 45-46, 55-56,
142-43, 207, 262-70,
Los Angeles--art schools,
54, 56, 79-92, 101-
4, 149-60, 162-90.
See also California
Institute of the
Arts; Jepson Art
Institute; Otis Art
Los Angeles--as environment
for artists, 45-47,
54-56, 142-46, 175-
77, 219-21, 270-72,
277-80. See also
Los Angeles — art
-V. New York, 46-47, 54,
175-76, 221, 267, 270-72
Los Angeles County Museum
of Art, 276-77
Lucas, George, 174
Lund, William, 185
Lustig, Alvin, 33
MacKendrick, Alexander, 90,
Malkiewicz, Kris, 101
Matisse, Henri, 72
Mcintosh, Robert, 56
McLaren, Norman, 44, 83,
McLaughlin, John, 276-78
Meier, Jody, 183
Milant, Jean, 229, 233-34
Milcall, Milt, 155
Miller, Barse, 21, 39
Mintz, Charles, Studio, 4-
6, 11, 14-17
Mister Magoo. See United
Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo, 60
Moritz, VJilliam, 148-49
Muybridge, Eadweard, 111
Nauman, Bruce, 81
Nevelson, Louise, 226-27
Nielsen, Kai, 25
Nin, Anais, 89, 154
Nureyev, Rudolph, 284
Oldenburg, Claes, 230, 233
O'Neill, Pat, 102, 208
Otis Art Institute, 56
Palmer, Herb, 46
Pavlova, Anna, 126
Perls, Frank, 45-46, 53
Picabia, Francis, 176
Pies, Dennis, 81, 107, 162,
168-69, 172-73, 175,
Pollock, Jackson, 181, 286
erg, Robert, 229-
, Ad, 58, 123
1, Studios. See
ited States Air
sther, 262, 268-69
6, 261, 268-69,
hy, 150, 168-69,
1-72, 175, 179,
Sal, Darla, 183-84
Sanders, Terry, 101
Scheyer, Galka, 141
Seldis, Henry, 220
Shawn, Ted, 18
Sheeler, Charles, 35
Sheets, Millard, 21, 39
Shoemaker, David, 122
Sotheby, Parke, Bernet,
Soulages, Pierre, 286
Spire, VJilla, 30
Stamos, Theodore, 265
Star Wars, 173
Stella, Frank, 229-30,
Stokowski, Leopold, 48
Stone, Carl, 109
Strobel, Ken, 4-5
Stutting, Barbara, 81
Van Huhn, Stephan, 234
Vigo (Jean), Prix, 130-31
Warshaw, Howard, 53-54
VJayne, June, 203, 213-33.
See also Tana rind
Welles, Orson, 144
VJest Coast watercolor ists,
21, 25, 39, 54
VJhitney Museum of American
Wright, Norm, 18
Wurdemann, Helen, Gallery,
Wyle, Edith, 53
Yunkers, Adja, 217
Tati, Jacques, 10, 77, 254
Tharp, Twyla, 60, 88
Thomas, Frank, 155
Thurber, James, 74
Tyler, Ken, 228-33
United Productions of
America (UPA), 30-
37, 42-43, 56, 67-
78 . See also
Hubley, John; Hurtz,
Bill; Klynn, Herb
-Frankie and Johnny, 74
-Fudgets Budget, 3 7
-Gerald McBoing Boing,
-Jaywalker, 3 7, 74
-Mister Magoo, 3 3, 74
-Unicorn in the Garden,
The, 7 4
United States Air Force —
animation unit, 30-
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